FINDING THE HERO WITHIN
~ by joel martens ~
Based out of Orange County, Ron Reyes specializes in photos of men, unapologetic images that celebrate the male form…And in particular, the gay male form. Though he doesn’t photograph them exclusively, it is his preferred medium. His style is broad and runs the gamut: From modeling portraits to family photos and headshots, though the bulk of his work revolves around fantasy images that encompass heroic themes. Raw and powerful, the images can at times, border on camp in the way he depicts his subjects. Elaborate costumes and grand sets, beautiful models draped in feathers, armor and greenery, daring you to engage. These are the things that make up his fantasy world and he has agreed to share it with The Rage Monthly.
This is his story.
Please tell me a little about when you caught the photography bug.
When I was a hula dancer, I noticed that most of the Halau photographers focused on photographing the women of hula and not many focused on the sexy, masculine, male hula dancers— especially from a gay male point of view—so I decided to start photographing my hula brothers. (Guys like attention too, especially the ones who work hard on the aesthetics of their physique. They’ve earned the right to show it off!) Luckily, they allowed me to photograph them in a much more sexier calendar boy, boudoir style and when I started posting them on social media, they sort of became viral just off my Facebook page.
I’m curious, what was your first camera?
I started with my Mom’s manual focus Canon SLR (with roll-film, mind you) and I’ve been partial to Canon cameras ever since.
Who were your influences as you were coming up in photography?
The artist Boris Vallejo, Walt Disney, Victor Skrebneski, Robert Mapplethorpe and Helmut Newton.
What would you say is the most compelling thing about capturing an image for you?
When I know the lighting hits the model’s physique ever so perfectly and when the model isn’t shy and is confident. When he is comfortable with his body and just knows he looks good in a pose…It becomes easy and natural to compose and capture a good shot.
What are the biggest challenges for you around photographing your aesthetic and when doing nudity?
That all depends on the model. If you have a model with issues about nudity and/or they have hang-ups about how and what poses they don’t want to do, it totally hinders the creative process. They’ve already pre-established obstacles. When that happens, the shoot becomes a bummer and I usually just want to end the session as quickly as possible. Another challenge is when a model wants to be ‘the artist’ on set, instead of allowing me, the photographer, to be the creative director. If the model just wants his own ideas captured, the shoot becomes stale. Of course, if the model is hiring and paying for the photography service, to capture exactly what he wants, then by all means. But, that changes the dynamic of things – because that just means he has turned into a “client” and not the photographer’s “muse” anymore.
Nudity has been a part of the art world for centuries. Yet society has, at times, such a contentious relationship with it. Have you run into resistance in your work and what do you think the challenges for many are around it?
Resistance? Absolutely. You already know how homophobic the mainstream media can be and I’m sure The Rage Monthly has experienced prejudices for its content and support for the gay community. So, it’s no surprise that my photography work can create controversy. As gay men living in this society, we know that images of naked women seem to be much more accepted than are photos of naked men. To most, naked men equals gay porn, which creates an immediate, knee-jerk reaction for a lot of people. Whereas, photos of naked women have many versatile categories that many straight people justify and label as acceptable, “art.”
Photography for me is unique because of its ability to capture someone’s personality and freeze it in that moment. Not everyone can draw that out. What do you look for or how do you approach your subjects?
Before I work with any model, I have to make sure they know my work. Because if they see my work, they understand my vision and if they like my vision, we’re already more than half-way there. We have the same goals…And when people have the same goals, attaining a desirable end-product becomes a cake-walk for the entire team.
Do you find that it’s a natural thing, or do you have to coax it out?
I’ve been lucky and it’s felt natural with my models, so far. There have been a rare couple of times where the subject was inexperienced and uncomfortable and for the sake of both of us, I just had to end the shoot early.
Photographing individuals is such an intimate experience, especially when doing nudes. How do you create an environment in which your subjects relax?
When I used to rent out a big studio in an industrial side of town, models would be skeptical and bit weary to enter—already feeling pre-stressed and uneasy from the get go—as if it were a clinical doctor’s visit or a porn studio. When I finally changed the environment to a more residential place in a populated, suburban type of location, models felt more “at home.” I noticed the subjects relax much better in that environment.
Was there one or two of the experiences that stand out for you, still?
I think every photographer has a couple of those “stand out” experiences. It’s always the models who we have great chemistry with and more-than-likely develop long-term friendships with, long after a shoot. The models that I work with, obviously appear on more than one occasion in my work and are such great experiences. Anyone who follows my work would totally know which models I’m talking about. When people have fun doing what they do, isn’t that something most people are drawn to naturally? Being with people you like and trust and have fun with!
For more information about Ron Reyes and his photography, go to ronreyesphotography.com.