Using Sexual Chemistry to Enrich Your Work
Instead of Allowing it to be a Distraction
David Hemmings and Veruschka in “Blow-Up”, 1966
Lisa Wexton Says:
Hello, I realize this question is going to seem like it’s coming completely out of left field, but I really do mean it as a serious question, so I hope you answer. I’m familiar with your work and seen you in action, and you really have a way with models. You really know how to bring out the best in them and use it to create these incredibly iconic images that just seethe with raw sexual energy. Is that something you are aware of? Do you consciously create that or does it just happen spontaneously? And, as long as I’m being plain-spoken, let’s face it: You’re incredibly hot, LOL. Does that ever interfere with professionalism on a shoot, and/or your artistic relationship with the model?
We’ve all seen the movie Blowup by Michelangelo Antonioni. (And if you haven’t, go out and get it right away. It’s on the must-see list for every aspiring .) For those of you who have seen it, we all know the famous scene: It’s a , and hot London fashion photographer David Hemmings is shooting his muse, the gorgeous Veruschka. The shutter whirs as Hemmings feverishly takes shot after shot of Veruschka writhing on the floor. It’s an intensely sexy scene, and the erotic implications are obvious. It’s almost like watching a porn, except the actors are completely clothed and there’s no actual sex at all. But it’s very hot, like sizzling-hot. Of course, it makes us as look like we get laid every other day by young, eager, sex-kitten models. And maybe some of us do. However, that’s never been my story.
To get to Lisa’s question, though: The short answer is, yes, I have certainly had incredible chemistry with many models. I try to find a connection with every model I work with, and one of my strengths as a photographer is that I am (almost always) able to find and tap into that connection, thus forming a chemistry between us. But no, it has never interfered with my professionalism on a shoot or with my integrity as an artist.
Yes, there certainly is some pretty raw sexual energy buzzing around on my shoots. I should fucking hope so—that’s one of the qualities that make my photographs interesting. It’s what I hope for in every shoot, because when that kind of energy is unleashed before my camera in a sexually charged artistic context, the results are epic. I’ve spent years learning how to connect with and direct models. When I’m casting I look for models who have raw sexual energy, and I also look for people I have a genuine and natural spark with. Because it’s really tough to pull out a sexual quality in a model who doesn’t have at least a little of it to begin with, and it’s even more difficult to get a good creative groove going if there isn’t a mutual, electric, and very real connection between photographer and model. A good photographer knows how to use sexual tension to enhance the image.
It’s a fine line to walk, though, that’s for sure. As Lisa hinted at in her question, the temptation to cross the line between personal and professional is ever-present and annoyingly strong. Lord knows I’ve felt it from time to time. Part of what makes a creative dynamic successful is a genuine attraction, a mutual fascination that can’t be forced or faked. But at the end of the day, you have to choose whether to master your desires or be mastered by them—meaning, are you serious about your art? Are you serious about your work? How dedicated are you to your career? In my case, the answers are yes, yes, and very.
The truth is, it’s not necessary for me to sleep with models in order to get good photos, and to be honest, I’m not interested in taking that route anyway. Not to sound cold—because hell, I enjoy sex as much as anyone else—but when I find a model I have really good chemistry with, the last thing I want to do is waste it on a petty sexual fling. I guess it doesn’t hurt that I’m married to a gorgeous 22-year-old who happens to be my soul mate, ha ha. But seriously, I would much rather use the erotic chemistry I have with a model to create a compelling, memorable image. It’s all about the art for me.
Sexuality is part of my visual aesthetic. I like sexy things. I like beautiful things. Hey, I ought to—I’m a visual artist. Sexy, vibrant, provocative people, places, things, and experiences are what capture my eye and inform my work. I have an eye for sexy and gorgeous, I’m able to read people really well, and I know how to bring out their sexiest qualities. It isn’t a talent I acquired overnight, though. It took years of experience being behind a camera to hone that particular skill.