- Tom- Tom
In London recently I did an interview with David McGillivray for UK magazine QX. One of David’s questions concerned what David believed to be my “type”. This question has been raised many times in the past and it merits the most clear statement I can make.
The late Robert L. Green was most famous for his regular features in Playboy Magazine on the subject of men’s fashion. He’d also written extensively on social and cultural matters for Hearst publications for the better part of the last century. I was fortunate to have known him as a friend. He was a demanding friend who, with but the raise of an eyebrow, signaled his skepticism about my prospects as a photographic artist when I announced I was doing a book before OUT OF THE STUDIO was published.
His initial skepticism made his later assessment sweeter. After that book found its way to coffee tables here and there, Robert told me he’d overheard a conversation that convinced him of my future fame. Two men at a restaurant table next to him were discussing the relative merits of a certain man. One of them said, “Yes, I think he’s attractive. But he’s not a Bianchi.”
“Thomas,” Robert announced in sensorial tones, “your name has become a generic term for a particular kind of male beauty. Like the Gibson girl at the beginning of the 20th century, your name now takes on a meaning beyond yourself.”
When David McGillivray asked me about the kind of man he saw as my “type”, I gave my stock answer. “I think men are like dogs – there are great whippets, gorgeous bull dogs, handsome setters. We come in all shapes and sizes, colors and ages. The issue is whether we are good examples of what we are.”
The men in this gallery cover a half century of time from 18 to 68 years of age. Their stories are featured in the Members Area. They are all great examples of what they are.
I understand why some see a particular “type” in the subjects of my work. In the same sense that Richard Avedon said that all his photographs are “self-portraits” – my photographs are about what I see interesting, compelling and beautiful in the men I shoot. So they are at bottom line, my vision – which is exactly what every person who takes a picture is doing. We all describe what is in our head – be it a landscape – a piece of trash found worthy of attention – or a beloved pet. I’ve shot all these subjects, though certainly men top the list. What thrills me is the discovery of that special spark in a man – and that is a quality hard to put in words.
The nature of what a photograph is has a homogenizing effect on what we say about what we see. A photo is a two-dimensional representation of what is at least a three dimensional experience. A man is colloid – a suspension of fluid mostly – capable of infinite shapes and forms. As the man and camera moves – the record is one of angles and shapes. I also look for some expression or attitude that will give insight into what charm lays within the man – some glimpse of person within the form.
So yes, I have a “type” if one wants to call it that. I look for a man’s ability to express an aesthetic. I look for the classic proportions we have collectively appreciated since ancient cultures represented human form. I seek the sense that a man loves his own body and has cultivated his physical self wisely. I’m not a fan of cartoon bodies – except in cartoons. I prefer the body plausible as well as electric. All men share structural design – the muscles that move and animate us. The visibility of that structure is what I find endlessly interesting, beautiful and fun to explore. The qualities I celebrate (and that frankly get me hard) can be found in any man who cultivates those qualities in himself regardless of age, race and ethnic origin.
Were I asked to describe my personal ideal “type” – I would have to say what I told David McGillivray. Look at this picture of my lover Ben. That pretty much says it on the surface.
The reason I’m attracted to my lover is because a complex of psychic / psychological / emotional and spiritual qualities converged in this man to create the unique man he is. I can’t pretend to understand it all. But he is my “type” in the sense that he expresses myriad qualities I admire. Had Ben come in a different package – say a black one, or Asian one, or younger one or older one or thinner one or thicker one – I’d still love him. It just happens that he came this way.