If you gaze at Kevin McDermott’s photographs, a couple of things are going to pop out. You’ll no doubt notice a lot of gorgeous men, most of them partially or completely naked. You’re also going to see black and white and lots of shadows. What you might not get, at first, but what lingers, is solitude.
Once you talk to the 47-year-old photographer that component won’t seem surprising. “Make me sound articulate,” McDermott half-jokes. “I worked as an actor for fifteen years, but I’m not the most schmoozy person in the world.”
Around 1997, McDermott’s dread of the auditioning experience led him to photography while still in theater. When his friend, the writer/illustrator Edward Gorey passed away in 2000, McDermott got permission to shoot his home, resulting in the book “Elephant House.” After that, “Genre” magazine called, and McDermott started concentrating on another favorite subject—beautiful men.
“I love the classic black-and-white beautiful man,” says McDermott, adding that, when he got started, everything was still film. “With digital, you can decide if you want to convert something to black and white, and it radiates down to the bare essence of line and shadow.”
McDermott loves color too, and he still has a thing for landscapes. If the question keeps coming back to men, it’s because “you get a lot more reactions with the guys.”
“I still see people on the street,” says McDermott on model-scouting. “Sometimes I make a fool out of myself. You try to do it in a way so they don’t think you’re a creep. Sometimes it works.”
Not that he needs to put out an ad. In addition to his commercial work, McDermott has shot such notables as Colton Ford and Todd Sanfield, who interrupted our conversation with a call-waiting beep. “Todd brings himself to whatever shoot he’s doing,” says McDermott. “He’s a blast to hang out with and to shoot. He’s never dull.”
There’s probably a good 20-year age difference between Sanfield and Ford, so I asked McDermott about the challenges of shooting older men as opposed to younger guys.
“Gravity,” jokes McDermott, adding, “I shoot twenty-year-old models and fifty-year-old veterinarians, hairy and smooth. It’s good to shoot a variety, and what makes a man sexy is the aura of that person. I see guys clothed first, so it’s the vibe of the person that’s attractive, it’s an attitude or an energy.”
What doesn’t attract McDermott is anything overly Photoshopped or processed. “I use Photoshop all the time, but I try to make it look like it was shot on film,” says McDermott. “It’s the beauty of keeping it on a human scale, a level where you look at a beautiful guy. That should be enough, not a cartoon of a beautiful guy.”
McDermott seems almost perplexed at the question of porn versus art in the nude-male-model world.
“Maybe it’s growing up Catholic and seeing all those images of Saints,” McDermott says. “It’s sort of absurd, our era. Men have been portrayed nude forever, even Jesus. Since Bruce Weber I think male nudes have been part of fashion or adopted into fashion.”
As for his own work, “Do I think I’m shooting pornography? No. I’m shooting naked people. If someone doesn’t think so, that’s their issue.”
For an “inarticulate”
guy, he seems pretty clear.