First published on 28 Jun 2012.
Melbourne photographer Drew Pettifer has released a beautiful book about beautiful boys and we're loving it. For the past two or so years, he snapped intimate shots of friends and lovers in various states of repose (and mostly in states of undress). It's not tacky, though: it's art. And pretty bloody great art. Rayi Suhardiman spoke to Drew about the book, I Keep Mine Hidden, and how he captured this slew of slender young Melburnians on film.
Tell us a little bit about I Keep Mine Hidden.
It’s a series of photographs in a book – a monograph. The book itself is an exhibition. Nothing else will take any attention away as it's personal. I want the reader to have an intimate view of the photographs. Did you get the media release? Well everyone in the book are my friends and I told them beforehand that I will be taking pictures. I had 2,000 pictures and only 36 made the cut. I was a draining but worthwhile process
Why did you choose I Keep Mine Hidden as your title. Isn't ironic, don't ya think?
That was what I was going for. When I take pictures, they reveal themselves to me, yet as a photographer I stay hidden behind my camera. The title I took from The Smiths' song
Given what happened to Bill Henson, were you at all concerned what the public reaction might be to a book like this? Lots of nude young men in here...
Actually The Age contacted me and asked me the same question. But I don’t want to get into that – I mean, in Australia you see men and women sun bathing half naked so I don’t think that this will reflect badly. Of course, I understand that we are still somewhat conservative but I hope that we’ve moved on. I hope we’ve passed the Bill Henson saga.
OK, three shots in your book particularly captivated us – 'Untitled, Dylan with A Mug', 'Kieran Wanking' and 'Ilyas Wrapped in a Sheet'. Dylan seems very warm and friendly, Ilyas looks so vulnerable and we thought Kieran was praying, not wanking!
Yes, with Dylan it was morning he was drinking his coffee and his warm smile came through from the shot, he is exactly what you said warm and friendly. With Kieran, well, it has a calm feeling doesn’t it?
That’s why we thought he was praying or meditating while gazing out the window…not…masturbating…
[Laughs] And with Ilyas yes he does look vulnerable…it has that Greek art feel to it, very soft, revealing and vulnerable. I’m currently studying art so I think that particular shot was maybe influenced by it.
What's striking about the images is just how candid and un-staged they are. So: how do you do that?
I wait for the moment you know, I just wait for the right moment and hope that the camera capture that moment. I use film so I really wait. And it’s about the connection you have with the people you’re taking a photo of. It’s about connection.
So would you say you prefer film rather than digital?
I think film is a lot warmer and softer, you get that connection of the photographer channelling his work, his vision. I think digital – although it's getting better – still has a cold feeling to it.
You're asking a fair bit of your subjects. Is it ever an uncomfortable process?
Well, it’s about negotiations. I’ll show them [the photos] and tell them what I think then they tell me what they think. It really is about negotiations regarding which photos they're comfortable with me using.
How about the poses. Do you direct them?
[Laughs] No, no. sometimes I give them a few sample shots of what I’m going to shoot, then they do their own thing. I give them vague descriptions. I don’t want to direct them because then it would look
staged and unnatural. I give them the freedom to do what they want and I capture the engaging moment with my camera.
I Keep Mine Hidden is out now through M.33. RRP$33.