Most gay men over 40 grew up in a world in which they secretly dreamed of masculine gods, whether it were those men they saw when they sneak-peaked at Playgirl in the drugstore, those gymnasts or swimmers they watched on The Olympics, or everybody’s All-American prom-king high school idol.
For photographer Rick Day, 50, that dark-room dream has turned into a reality of touchable immortality. One of our most prolific commercial photographers, Day has shot thousands of images of men, beautiful men, barely clothed men, who beckon and seduce and often smile, yet are somehow above the ground we walk on.
“The world that I see is the world that is perfect,” says Day, who has a down-to-earth jovial voice that sounds like the polar opposite of what you’d expect from the man behind the Adonis curtain. “From as long as I can remember, looking at magazines, the girls were amazing. I want to see something that I can aspire to, not something I see every day.”
To that end, he doesn’t deny nor condemn Photoshop (“It’s part of an arsenal”), and he embraces a culture that has redefined the male body. “We didn’t have the things that enhance the body,” says Day on the changing times. “We didn’t have gyms twenty years ago like we have now. You didn’t stay in the gym. The track guys had nice bodies. The football players were just big.”
Day says he shoots every day, usually doing fashion shoots and other commercial work during the week, and saving the weekend for his personal projects. Check out his website and you’ll be surprised at the different types of bodies and faces you’ll find—the biggest shock might be that it’s full of women.
“Most people are surprised that I shoot women,” says Day. “They don’t go to your website. They Google your name. It’s not a fair representation. If I took six pictures and one was a body shot, that’s what would show up on blogs and Google.”
Day loves all sorts of photography, even if the male body is on a higher pedestal, in more ways than on.
“I’m a gay guy, so of course I’m going to enjoy seeing a beautiful man in front of the camera,” says Day, adding “If I only shot bodies all the time that would be boring.” “With a girl,” he continues, “you always have a team. It’s more of a production.” The variety of Day’s work, too, is often eclipsed by what’s lucrative. “People think I only like huge, ripped guys, but that’s not true. It sells. I like a slender guy who’s 165 pounds.”
What’s selling next is All Players, an 8-and-1/2—pound (no, not a typo) continuation of the Players series. “The book is so huge, it’s crazy,” says Day. “If you like Players, you’re going to like All Players. The guys are all hot. I don’t like to single anyone out. It’s a limited edition, much larger volume.”
Many gay photographers who shoot gay men have faced what they say is almost discrimination in hiring practices, and Day’s faced those challenges. “If you shoot a lot of gay guys, you get labeled that that’s what you shoot,” opines Day. “You have to think ‘How am I going to balance that out?’”
Day stops short of calling the labeling “homophobic,” and instead says it’s unfamiliarity with the male body that gets you pigeon-holed. “It’s a generational thing,” says Day. “It’s not as common to shoot male bodies. The younger generation doesn’t think that way. Sports Illustrated has women, Victoria’s Secret is everywhere. When I shoot a guy on a beach, I have to make sure you can see his bathing suit.”
Day notes that many of his male models are heterosexual, and that “twenty years ago I had to actively find straight men to let me shoot them. Now I’m bombarded on facebook by straight men who want me to shoot them in their underwear.”
The “porn” label has also been applied to pretty much every photograph that shows a man’s rear-end or an outline of his crotch. Says Day: “I love porn; a lot of people think what I do is porn. If you took the same pictures I took, but left it with grungier lighting or looking dirty, I could see that. But in the Fifties, we considered Victoria’s Secret porn. Marilyn Monroe without showing her breasts was considered porn.”
Again, it all goes back to artistic expression and the changing attitudes about the male body. For the 28-year-old Atlanta waiter who picked up a Bruce Weber book after being stranded in a rainstorm, and decided on the spot that photography was his calling, it’s also about capturing beauty, made in the gods own images.