On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I escaped New York just as Frankenstorm 2012 was set to blow in.
I'd just spent 10 days in the city for meetings and my speaking engagement at PDN's Photo Plus Expo. I flew out to DC and got stuck there for a couple more days than I expected. Enroute back home, I got an email from Jane Sherman at Seattle Weekly that read pretty typical:
-Are you available for a shoot? YES. -It's gonna be fun and you'd be perfect for it. SOUNDS GOOD. -You'll be photographing the writer about his amazing story, and he's willing to get naked. PRGHHGHHGH?!!!
As with every project these days, it all came together pretty quick. I'd gotten some initial thoughts from the pub about how to tackle.
In a nutshell, a re-interpreted takeoff on Leibovitz's seminal Yoko Ono/John Lennon cover for Rolling Stone was our starting point and the reason Mr. Stusser was willing to take it off for the camera.
As a photographer, I love having a baseline. I know what my client's thinking and how far I can go before things get too wild. Because my subject was already down to get naked, I knew things were pretty limitless, so it was important to harness limits with expression, and taste. Readability.
So I now give you Michael Stusser.
He's been published in numerous magazines. Made board games with Garry Trudeau. Penned a clever book entitled the Dead Guy interviews which is pretty riotous.
His story, Sleeping with Siri, is quite honestly a beast of an essay. It was chock full of stats and incredibly candid assessments of himself. To sum it up: He binged on technology by joining every social media site he could find. He checked in everywhere. Took advantage of any number of web-only offers and texted the heck out of his friends. After a week of this, he purged himself off and studied the effects it had on him and those around him.
I could go on forever with a critique of his 'exercise' because it gets into bigger themes like relationships, alienation and desire. Overall, it seemed like a really successful piece of performance art that blurred the boundaries of truth and forced readers to turn an introspective eye in upon themselves.
Couple all that with the fact that Stusser had a heavy preoccupation with his iPhone's personal assistant, Siri. The screen above is pretty tame, but let's just say that Stusser really, REALLY wanted to take his relationship with her to the next level. His pursuit of her became the impetus for the shoot and working title of the story.
Flash forward to a Sunday in early November when I was at the home of Stusser readying ourselves for the shoot. I looked around and became immediately interested in the plush chaise lounge in his living room after realizing the Leibovitz homage might be hard to pull off.
In a flash, I saw a reclining male nude in the style of Ingres' "Grande Odalisque."
If you're unaware, the piece above has inspired a robust discourse about notions of beauty in art along with phallocentric, psychoanalytic and feminist theory.
While making a compelling image is paramount to me, I was thinking of Stusser's practice as a form of art. In some way, I wanted to tip my cap to that and study the idea of using Stusser as my own 'object' of contemplation/desire.
Above is the resulting cover that I couldn't have been more pleased with. Big thanks to Jane and Stusser, along with the capable hands of Gretchen and Nick.