Conversations are important to Florian. He’s famous for spending lots of time getting to know his subjects. The images are often intimate, close-up compositions of queer bodies and body parts, sometimes alone but often paired with other subjects. They remind viewers–especially gay viewers–of those fleeting moments before, during and after sex, when the brain is quietly cataloguing images to drive the mutual attraction and engagement. A glint off a collarbone. A contracting glute in a jockstrap. A partner’s strong hand making contact with your body. These recollections are what’s left when the feeling of orgasm subsides.
Florian’s commitment to intimacy, honesty and dialogue in his images made him the perfect partner to capture photography for Future Method. Like Florian, Future Method believes that more conversations, more openness and less stigma are needed if gay men are going to have hotter, healthier, sex. Our two-part interview begins with a conversation around his process and thoughts on “gay body image.”
Adam Baran: Let's talk about how you first started taking photos.
Florian Hetz: I had a severe brain inflammation, which put me in the hospital. I nearly died. That process caused massive memory loss. So to fight the memory loss, I picked up the camera and started to document my daily life. Without those photos I wouldn't have remembered. So it was really a visual diary.
That process of taking little photos of my daily life conditioned me to carry a camera. Then it was a small point-and-shoot. Eventually I picked up a proper camera, started to put out bits and pieces of these photos that I took on social media and Tumblr when it was still interesting and they got really popular.
It was nice but also it was too private for me. My thought process was like, instead of showing my private life, why not create the photos that I carry with me in my head, that I think and dream and live. That's when I got a proper camera and found models who were willing to sit for me and create those photos with the proper light. That's how I started.
I know that you like to know and have a relationship with your subjects before shooting them, right?
Yeah. I can shoot people without knowing them, but I prefer to get a piece of biography. I usually meet someone a week or a month before, in a coffee shop or neutral place and talk with them for an hour or two to get to know them, but also to give them the chance to get to know me...what I am, what I want with my work and my life.
Over time we establish a relationship that makes the process with the subject easier next time. The next time they will most likely be wearing little to no clothes in front of my camera and that can be uncomfortable. A big part of my job is to relax someone, to create a really comfortable atmosphere so they don't feel ashamed or bad about themselves. My ideal is when a subject leaves the shoot smiling, laughing, saying that it was really nice. I also get ideas when I sit with someone. Observing people, finding things that interest me. The line of a neck, for example. That's when my ideas often start. And it's really quite joyful.
After reading the intro to your book or hearing you speak, do you think some might mistake your love for capturing the “human” with finding beauty in the “ugly?”
Yeah. I mean, I don't find it "ugly.” It's my world, and my aesthetic, and I think a lot of people subscribe to that aesthetic. But a majority of society doesn't see saliva, or sweat, or bodily fluids that we all deal with. That's where the "ugliness" comes in. But I don't find it ugly. These moments are really normal, we all go through them.
Can we talk about the campaign that you shot for Future Method? How did you approach this project and how did you find the subjects?
I first was looking in my closest circle, which I always do. Which I said before, I like to work with friends or people that I've worked with me before, because it makes things easier. In this case we wanted a really diverse cast, and not just in terms of ethnicity, but also in terms of age and body shapes. For that we had to dig a little deeper.
We did an open call on social media and got a lot of responses. I shot them over a period, but at one point they were all together also. They all got along really well too. They came from all different backgrounds and cultures, but they all wound up enjoying the sense of community. There was a nice moment where they were all sitting together, changing, laughing, exchanging moments.
Speaking of changing–gay men’s bodies? The last few decades have seen muscle clones, blond jocks, bears, queers and most recently the “natural look.” What do you think gay men are doing to their bodies today? Is there even a gay look anymore?
I think steroids and the Instagram body are the big thing now. Since everyone is dealing with social media, in a certain age group. They look at others more and compare themselves to others’ fake perfections. Especially in the gay community in Europe, steroids have become more and more popular than it has been in the States or anything before. We can see it here in our culture. Ten years ago there were a lot of really normal, beautiful bodies, but now it's about getting bigger and bigger.
Natural bodies are kind of body shamed. It's not only fat-shaming, it's that natural bodies are shamed. There's this weird energy of superiority. I'm curious to see where that leads, cause like you said in the 70s there was a slightly more natural body, still worked out but then everything in the 80s became about being healthy, and I want to know what the next thing is, I hope healthy bodies come back. Instead of over-trained and inflexible bodies.
Do you have a favorite butt that you’ve photographed or seen on a friend or famous person?
I have a couple of models whose butts I really enjoy photographing. One is a dancer who has a beautiful trained butt. The other is exactly the opposite who is not trained at all but has a big round juicy butt. I don’t really have a favorite shape or form. I have been lucky to take photos of really beautiful behinds.
Is there a famous person in history whose behind you admire?
I was really obsessed with Mapplethorpe’s famous photo of his butt with a whip in his ass when I was thirteen.
MIght I ask, what is the most erotic part of the body for you?
The neck and collarbone. That's for me the most erotic part of the body. Followed by hands. I find hands fascinating.
Stop back soon for Part II of Florian Hetz: Conversations With An Artist