by Fabrizio Giuffrida
(A special thank to Vincent Keith
for his kind help)
It’s a nice spring
Two good friends sit drinking coffee.
They discuss their common interest in photography…
How did you start with photography?
I have been drawing ever since I can remember. I was in love with
Michelangelo, Bernini - in Rome you can see their works everywhere - I
was in love with the statue of the “Ganges River” in Piazza Navona [one
of the statues of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, a
Bernini’s masterpiece], and at school I started drawing more seriously.
I have always loved advertisements and graphics, so when I finished
secondary school I wanted to go to the art college. My parents didn't
like that idea very much, so instead I wound up studying accounting and
business administration; but alone in my bedroom I continued to draw,
and to read books about the art of drawing. Around the time I was 15, I
started buying American porn magazines and copying the models and poses
featured in their pages.
It wasn’t long before I was interested in doing more than simply
copying the images, so I bought my first camera and started to take my
own photos. This happened at the beginning of the '80's, at a time when
I was totally addicted to fashion photography. Mapplethorpe was
everywhere in magazines and art shows with his enchanting, disturbing
black and white portraits; and of course there were Newton, Ritts,
I would buy fashion magazines, tear out the pages with the most
interesting photos and add them to my growing collection.
I still have a lot of those magazine clippings, many that feature some
amazing and adventurous photography, little to none of which has been
featured in proper photo books. By observing and studying these photos
I started feeling the desire to create something original, to
experiment with image making, and I began with little steps. I started
by finding and reading photography books that focused on the technical
elements of the art form. Then I spent time walking around Rome
photographing statues at different times of the day, with different
lenses, all the while writing technical notes on all the photos I was
taking in a small book (EXIF data was years from being created!). The
advantage of taking pictures of statues is that they never get bored
however much time you need to take nice photos of them.
When I felt more confident in my technical skills I started asking my
friends to pose for me. To begin with, it was hard going - I was
pretty much always turned down. Things changed in the winter of 1985,
when my friend Michele accepted, and I finally had the chance to take
portraits of a human being instead of statues.
When I look at those early photos of Michele today I can clearly see
mistakes, it was, after all, my first experience in taking portraits,
but I feel a strong affection for them because they remind me of
my desire to take photos and they remind me of my friend Michele, who
died a few years later. He was a very handsome, big, tall man. I still
remember his beautiful big hands, his booming loud voice and his great
sense of humor.
Michele was the first to believe in my potential as a photographer.
Recently I “thanked” him on my Flickr gallery, because I had never had
the occasion to do it before. Even now, when I am taking pictures or
when I am all alone editing the photos on my computer, I wonder what
Michele would think of my work, what he would say about the thousands
of portraits and the nudes, after all these years of experience,
especially now that I have my own website...
Let's talk about your website,
www.gianorso.com. When did you start it and why? Do you have many
The website was created in 2004, but it did not go online until October
the 20th 2005.
I started it because I wanted to show my works without any censorship
or mediation. For the very first time I felt the need to do it
personally and directly.
So I bought my own domain, I looked for some software to create
galleries in flash and thanks to the patience of my webmaster, and
“husbear”, ZippOrso, the first version of the site was built. I check
the statistics of the site often, and apart from the big number of
European and American visitors I've been nicely surprised by the
strong interest by Japanese visitors.
The daily traffic is about 1,000–1,500 visits, but it rises to more
than 4,000 when I change the galleries or when some other site
publishes an article about my work and puts a link to my website.
As I've said before, the website’s principal function is to show my
It's my personal art gallery, where I can put the shots I love, without
having to bow to commercial pressures, or god-knows-what goals, and
especially with no censorship.
Quite often I wonder if all the time I spend taking photos, editing
them, studying the best poses, undertaking artistic research and
finding citations, isn’t simply a game in my head, and that in
fact, people really don't care about all that and are only
interested in the immediate gratification of seeing nude bodies?
Then from time to time I receive an e-mail from someone who discovered
my website by chance and who not only appreciates the artistic side of
my work, but also tells me it has helped them in changing the way they
look at themselves. Through my photography they manage to move beyond
years of struggling with a bad body image and choosing to hide their
bodies from public view. These e-mails mean a lot to me. They incite me
to go further and create even more and better work.
The process of making photo galleries depends on the number and quality
of images I have taken and edited in the previous months. Originally, I
had hoped to change the galleries every month, but I soon realized it
was an impossible task, furthermore, I came to understand that the
pictures needed more time to be seen.
Now, the galleries change every six, seven months. This gives me enough
time to keep the standard very high and to devote enough time to
editing my shoots. Usually there are two or three galleries dedicated
to models, one to portraits, one to couples and one to urban and
natural landscapes – a category that had not been planned in the
beginning and that is constantly evolving.
On your website, in the “Portraits
of Modern Gentlemen” gallery, you talk about a “specific male typology
that is my object of desire”. Looking at your photos one can see a
large number of models with different ages, body shapes and degrees of
self-confidence in front of the camera. What do you mean by “male
typology”? How do you define it?
I think I made that statement at the time I was first creating the
website. I suppose I was looking for a “manifesto” for my photographic
subject. “The male typology that is my object of desire” referred to
big, burly men, with blue eyes, red beards and blond or red hair.
Something like a Viking-Scottish-Irish giant! Of course it’s just a
projection of my own personal desires, though its a “projection” that
I've never actually met in real life. Ever since I was a kid I've been
attracted by a “typology” or type of man that does not adhere to the
“usual” or popular concept of handsomeness. My eye was caught by big
men rather than by slim guys, even if I was aware that the latter were
considered by the majority as handsome while the ones I liked weren’t.
Another important detail in my formation is that ever since I can
remember, I have been fascinated by art books and photography. I
remember when I was six or seven years old I was offered a book about
the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel frescoes, with detailed photos of
the big bodies painted by Michelangelo and even all his studies about
male forms. Even then, I was attracted to the big bodies; I was
enchanted by the sensual hyperbolic bodies of Rubens, Giambologna and
Canova, artists that have portrayed big, magnificent men that were far
from the present concept of male beauty imposed by the world’s media.
Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman represent the popular ideal male
beauty today, and while I like them for what they are, I have
absolutely no interest in taking photos of them. I remember when I was
in my early 20s, I was talking with some guys about the kind of men we
liked. I have been the standing joke for years because unlike them, I
fancied John Goodman and not Tom Cruise.
This means that your photography
is in fact a transposition of your desire?
Absolutely! My desires, my interests, my likes, my ideals all influence
It’s true that there are some physical details that catch my attention
immediately: faces, legs, body shape, and there are some people that
make me want to take photos of them instinctively. But after talking
with them my interest disappears. For that reason, I can say that my
photography is similar to my sexual desire. Conversely, I've
experienced the situation of taking photos of men that were really
handsome in the flesh but, in front of the camera, proved to be very
different from what I had expected.
What inspired you to start taking
photos of nude men?
The American magazine “Colt” was my personal bible.
While I was aware that the kind of hyper-muscled, glamorous men they
used to feature in their pages were absolutely far from reality,
the quality of the photos of Jim French, the guy that created the Colt
style, was breathtaking. It’s still being copied today by a
number of photographers. The poses, the perspectives, the editing are
still in my head as personal references.
My second obsession was the American porn magazine “Drummer.” It
featured another intriguing, teasing typology of men that conquered my
heart and head. Last, but not least, discovering the great art of
Mapplethorpe, with his extreme black and whites, and his ability to
turn situations that could be seen as extremely violent into
aesthetically artistic shots. One of his photos that I still consider
to be striking and extremely modern is the portrait of two big bearded
men, one tied up head upside down, his partner holding his balls
firmly, both staring at the camera [“Elliot and Dominick, 1979”, in
Robert Mapplethorpe, Ten by Ten p. 11, Schirmer and Mosel, Munich
1988]. It's a beautiful, disturbing, and anything-but-dull portrait.
I remember people running away from a great retrospective dedicated to
his work in Venice some years ago - his photos show an aesthetic and a
sexuality that not everybody is willing to see and accept.
Is it difficult to find models?
As I told you before, when I started to take photos and asked
people to model for me, they always said no. I recognize that people
often have a very bad relationship with photography and with the idea
of posing in front of a camera for a photo that is not the usual
holiday shot. It’s been said that some Native American cultures refused
to have their portraits taken, because they believed that cameras stole
their souls. In some ways, I think there may be some truth to this
view. Some portraits I've taken show the subject’s personality more
than words alone could possibly tell. Anyway, things started changing
when I could show prospective models my work and people then realized
that I wasn't looking to make some cheap porn catalogue, but that I was
undertaking a personal exploration into aspects of male beauty.
I started with my friends, then friends of friends, then my friends’
lovers, and so on.
Today I even use web chats to contact possible models, with different
results depending on people's availability and seriousness.
You stated that your models “have
in common their being “different” from the dominant aesthetic concept
of male beauty”. Could this be considered as a criteria you follow when
Along the years I had the chance to take photos of an incredible
variety of bodies, faces, hands, expressions, gestures, that all have
in common their being “different” from the dominant concept of
aesthetic male beauty. This is my starting point, the will and
objective to show to the world that men who are so often treated so
badly by the media have a sensuality that is equal, if not superior, to
all the models we get shown on TV, in movies and in ads.
I stand against what is “usual”. Instead, I continue to fight my
personal war for big men’s beauty.
When I asked you about the male
typology you never mentioned “bears”. Why? Would you accept
“photographer of bears” as a definition?
I find “photographer of bears” is a rather strict definition. I do not
repudiate anything, but I think I have gone well beyond that. I have
shown I have a wider concept of male typology. I really like big men,
but there are some husky guys that I find extremely attractive. I have
personal preferences, of course: you know already of my partiality for
red men with pale skin, I am crazy for the American guys, I am
enchanted by the fascinating Spanish guys and the handsome north
Europeans, as much as I am struck by the mesmerizing beauty of Black
men and the elegant sensuality of Oriental guys.
The concept of “Bear” was very interesting at the beginning, when it
started as reaction to the gay stereotypes of the 80's.
I remember how my hands trembled when I got my first copy of Bear
Magazine featuring the first photos of Jack Radcliffe. But after many
years and many personal relationships with bear groups here in Italy, I
have lost any interest in those labels and that identity. That's why I
never refer to my men as bears, chubbies or whatever, because I hate
labeling anyone. I just take photos of people.
How are your personal
relationships with your models?
You have no idea of how difficult my models can be!
My personal appreciation for their faces and bodies usually clashes
with their own conviction of being ugly and useless. I have rarely met
guys that had a good relationship with their bodies.
Most of the guys would love to be completely different. I remember a
cute furry, dark haired young cub that came for a photo session with a
picture of Cameron Diaz in his hands. He asked me: “Please make me look
like her!”. I answered that even Photoshop has its limits!
I try to talk to my models a lot before the photo shoot, and hope to
work through possible problems such as “my bf doesn't want me to pose”
or “I look so terribly ugly”. Now I usually introduce myself by showing
my website and asking the guys if they might be interested in posing
for me. If they are not... ok, never mind. Maybe next time, maybe
never. One thing really makes me mad though: people who write me
offering themselves as models, making me organize everything, and then
the day we fixed for the session, they disappear without calling or
sending any message to inform me.
I keep on hoping one day I will meet a bunch of exhibitionist big men
that will pose with no problems and troubles! Another big problem
relates to the fact they are not professional models, so a lot of guys,
when they get in front of the camera, simply... freeze, turn into a big
piece of wood! It takes patience, a lot of talking, music, and jokes to
make them relax and finally have fun with the session.
How important is Photoshop in your
images? How do you use it?
Photoshop helps me in editing the RAW files to get the maximum
I use it to take off pimples, little scars or skin imperfections, but
never, never to drastically change colors or body shapes.
Obviously, it is also useful when converting color photos into black
and white or duotone images.
Where do you take photos? Do you
have a studio?
My studio is usually... my living room!
Along the years I have bought equipment that can turn my living room in
a professional photo-studio.
I use it mostly during winter. When the weather permits, I prefer to
take photos using natural light. Even if it's not so easy to find quiet
places where you can take pictures of nude men.
How do you work with natural
light? What are your technical solutions?
When I take photos outdoors or on beaches I prefer to shoot
towards the end of the afternoon, when the sun is lower on the horizon,
and light is oblique and brilliant. I generally avoid taking photos in
midday hours, light is too strong and it makes models close their eyes.
When it is possible I ask some friends to help me with the reflecting
How do you create your
compositions? Do you follow any rules?
No, I do not follow any particular rule. I have several ideas
and possible poses in mind when I organize the sessions, and sometimes
models have troubles in achieving them. I can be influenced by other
photos, or by masterpieces of art (I have often used the pose of the
“Amor profano” by Caravaggio, or the “Thinker” from Rodin). I usually
use neutral colors as a background to the models, so that viewers can
concentrate more on the subject than to the surroundings.
Now tell us the most strange or
shocking thing that happened to you while taking photos.
It’s not easy to shock me. Strange... well... there was this guy
from Spain who offered to pose for me during his holiday in Rome. He
sent me some photos, forgetting to tell me that they were 15-20 years
old. So when I opened the door I found in front of me the pale remains
of what he had once been. I tried to take pictures anyway, but the
results were disastrous!
Do you have any contacts with
other photographers specialized in male nudes? What do they think of
I have daily contacts with photographers worldwide through
www.flickr.com, especially those who specialize in similar subjects.
You should ask them what they think of my work [laughs].
Personally I find there is a very interesting exchange of ideas,
suggestions and points of view.
And with some of them good friendships are developing.
Is it possible to buy your photos?
Do you plan to publish a book of your works?
No, for the time being, my photos are not for sale. I haven't
even thought about it, even if some people seem convinced I am getting
rich from selling photos on the web! Maybe some day I will do it, maybe
not, I don’t know.
Making a book is an idea I’ve cherished from a long time. I’ve
considered the self-publishing route with printing services like
blurb.com, but haven’t taken any steps in that direction. Maybe after
my next show some world-famous publisher will offer to publish me!
[laughs]. Well, I can dream can’t I!