I turned 50 this year. So what?
When I was in my 30s, I lived in California and worked out a lot. I got to be pretty “buff” and a friend told my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) that I should model mens underwear. I thought this was a pretty funny suggestion (I was in grad school at the time), but eventually actually went as far as having a fellow grad student take some photos for a small portfolio, and even meeting with a modeling agency in LA! (Once I found out how much it cost, I decided not to go that route.)
Other than posting some model photos on the Internet (a very new thing at the time), I never actually got a modeling gig and quickly put the whole idea behind me. Life went on, including getting married, moving to Upstate New York, and having two children.
Well…upon turning 50 this past year, I wanted to commemorate the occasion photographically. I knew I wanted to do a self-portrait series (partially inspired by the work of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman), but I was having a hard time deciding on what sort of series.
Then I remembered how Jim Palmer (a very successful pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles) famously modeled Jockey underwear…which I thought he did in his 50s *after* retiring from baseball. (It turns out I was wrong; he was actually in his 30s and 40s…though maybe he did it as late as his early 50s? I’m not sure anymore!) That combined with my early failed attempt at underwear modeling clinched it for me: I would do a series on mens underwear ads.
For this series, I looked at all the mens underwear ads I could find. (Did you know there are people selling vintage mens underwear ads at eBay?)
Mens underwear ads used to be very straightforward and boring (with most of the models wearing “tighty whities” or boxer shorts and t-shirts). The ads Jim Palmer did were a bit more sexy; he was tan and wearing bikini briefs, but simply sitting on the edge of a box in front of a plain backdrop looking at the camera. Provocative for the times, but still relatively mild.
Over the years, the ads–and the underwear–have gotten more sexy, blatant (“in your face”) and have even managed to slip in some nudity–i.e., where the model isn’t even wearing underwear, but the underwear are somewhere in the “scene” (this, in particular, makes me chuckle).
The settings in the ads range widely, but can be exotic locations (like Mediterranean beaches), luxurious bedrooms, or near eye-catching architecture. It seems to me the places where men are usually in their underwear are a bit more “pedestrian”. But do commonplace locations not sell underwear??
So for this, my 50th year, I decided to do my own “take” on mens underwear ads to see how much I could capture of the spirit of the current ads out there, as well as honing them a bit to be more realistic, or…perhaps, uh…more “preposterous”?…:-).
I'm realizing that it can be very tricky doing a self-portrait project that isn't viewed as an outright, attention-getting vanity performance. From my perspective, I was using a model to whom I have exclusive access, was ready when I needed him, and who I didn't even have to worry about paying. I was a great resource for myself to do a photo project, and I don't want to have to shy away from using this model just because he's me.]
Added on 3/6/13: Dark Tan Man (Photo #10 below)
5/1/2013: One other point I’d like to add: I trained for this shoot like I was Sylvester Stallone training for a Rocky movie! I really pushed myself in workouts and did extra sessions during the two weeks leading up to the shoot. I also applied self-tanning lotion until I started turning orange! (my orange skin was getting looks at the gym, I could tell…:p) I guess my point is that I really worked for this and it wasn’t easy.