Jonathan Black

(About photography, in particular male photography, exploring the male body (in this case with a gay gaze). With some reflections on the aesthetics involved. No linguistic discussion, but on the other hand, the posting isn’t sexually incendiary, though it does refer to gay sex acts.)

For some time, my friend Max Meredith Vasilatos has been sending me cards from a postcard set sampling the images in Jonathan Black’s 1998 hardback Idols (Bruno Gmünder, Berlin), which featured gay pornstars (that is, stars in gay porn) and professional models, all of them displaying their naked, or largely naked, bodies (in photos that seem to have been taken in 1995-97). I’ve picked three images, of very different tones, for discussion: veteran pornstars Hal Rockland and Max Grand and nude model Jordan Scott (who has appeared in some soft porn emphasizing muscles). Here are the images; the latter two have been cropped to eliminate the genitals and focus instead on the model’s faces and upper bodies.

(#1: Rockland)

(#2: Grand)

(#3: Scott)

The full images will be available on my XBlog, along with some shots from gay porn. [9/3: Now posted here.]

All three men have well-developed bodies; men who make their livings off their bodies (male models, male hustlers, pornstars, in particular) tend to put in a lot of gym time, and many are quite serious about fitness, muscle development, and/or body building.

Hal Rockland (#1) was an amateur bodybuilder before he went into porn, and apparently continues working on his body (he’s now married — to a woman — and has a construction business in Colorado). From Wikipedia:

Hal Rockland (born February 11, 1975 in Darmstadt, (then, West) Germany) is a former pornographic film actor who appeared primarily in gay pornographic films .

Rockland was the third of the Rockland brothers triptych but second of the siblings to join the gay pornographic industry, following in the footsteps of his older brother Vince Rockland. The eldest brother, Shane Rockland, joined the industry later. All three appeared together in the gay porn film Three Brothers (New Age Pictures, 1998).

In #1, Jonathan Black has chosen to present Rockland showing himself off, in a characteristic bodybuilder pose (or, perhaps, Black has allowed Rockland to present himself this way) — but in a jokey way. Playfully loutish, or perhaps loutishly playful.

Rockland is presumably straight, but sometimes identified himself as bisexual (possibly to appeal to a wider audience). In his porn work, he was a strict top, taking only the insertive role in anal intercourse (though, of course on screen he kissed men and traded oral sex with them; that comes with the gay porn territory.) In any case, dominant masculinity was clearly part of his self-image, and Black captured that in this photo.

The other two men above are uncomplicatedly gay. Black’s photos capture two different self-presentations for gay gay pornstars: seductive and sensuous for Grand, the hunky sex buddy for Scott.

Max Grand (#2) is a veteran pornstar, with over a hundred flicks (going back to 1993) to his credit. In principle, he’s retired from the business — he’s now in his middle 40s — but he occasionally suggests that he might return for a farewell tour.

Black’s photo shows some of Grand’s striking physical attributes: his Latin skin coloration (he’s from El Salvador), his handsome face, his light facial scruff, his broad shoulders and muscular upper body, especially his well-developed pecs — another pornstar who works out regularly — and his lightly furred body. Lying languidly on a bed, Grand is gazing directly into the viewer’s eyes, with the hint of a smile on his face, and he’s fingering one of his nipples; in his porn work, his partners take advantage of those pecs by playing with his nipples, sometimes lightly but most often roughly, to Grand’s evident pleasure. (I’ve been watching a porn compilation, Grand Slam: The Best of Max Grand.) Black is presenting Grand as offering his body for sex. In fact, I took this photo as an allusion to Manet’s famous painting Olympia:

(#4)

From Wikipedia:

Olympia is a painting by Édouard Manet, first exhibited at the 1865 Paris Salon, which shows a nude woman lying on a bed being brought flowers by a black servant. The painting caused shock and astonishment because the nude looks at the viewer with a confrontational gaze and is adorned with a number of details identifying her as a prostitute.

And Grand is, or at least was, a male hustler (via the site men4men and perhaps elsewhere) as well as a gay pornstar. As I’ve noted here in the past, even very hard-working pornstars, like Grand, have trouble paying the bills through this work alone and seek out other sources of income; many capitalize on their film fame by working as rentboys.

Grand is sexually versatile in his porn work — enthusiastically taking either the insertive or the receptive roles in anal intercourse. So in #2, he’s offering his body, but the gay viewer can choose how to develop the fantasy of sex with him.

Then there’s Jordan Scott, shown in #3 sitting in a chair in a tropical garden, in a body-offering pits ‘n’ tits pose, with a friendly half-smile on his face, plus amazing abs. Scott is serious about his muscles, and Black’s photos of him appear often on sites celebrating muscle men.

Scott has done some softcore porn work (no actual sex between men, but lots of nudity), emphasizing athleticism and muscles: 107 Degrees from Greenwood/Cooper, Naked Muscle Warriors from Sharpshooter, and Muscleforce 5: Jordan from Muscleforce Productions.

Black’s photos of Scott do show the muscles, but (unlike with Hal Rockland) that’s not the main point:. Instead, much of their effect comes from Scott’s face, which is friendly: they offer male bonding with a really nice hunky guy. The choice of presentation might have been Scott’s (doing what he likes to do) or Black’s decision to explore Scott’s character in this particular way, or, more likely, a collaboration between the model and the photographer.

A footnote: Scott has also worked under the names Brad Blaylock and Rick Menchio. (Many models and pornstars use more than one professional name. Max Grand, for instance, has also been known as Max Grande, Lash, and Max Grandioso; I don’t know what Grand’s real name is.) As Blaylock, he’s appeared on the television show 1 Girl 5 Gays. From Wikipedia:

1 Girl 5 Gays, sometimes abbreviated as 1g5g, is a Canadian talk show that premiered on October 14, 2009 on MTV Canada. In October 2010, gay-interest sister network Logo picked up the program and started airing it in the United States.

Out Magazine described the show as containing “frank, often curse-laced discussions about bareback sex, masturbation and one-night stands”, and analogised it with “The View meets Dr. Ruth, only with hot gay men instead of menopausal madams”.

The show uses a rotating panel of gay men, with a female host.

What’s important here is that Scott is publicly and unapologetically gay; that’s part of his identity and it figures in the way he presents himself (though apparently he sometimes worries about “sounding gay”). In his physical presentation, he projects easy, muscular masculinity.

What the photographer reveals. Some commenters on the Idols book dismiss it as high-class (and expensive) jack-off material. There’s no question that the images present the subjects as “objects of lust”, as one commenter put it, and I’m sure that was part of Black’s intention; there would be nothing surprising, or wrong, in jacking off to whichever of these photos move you. (I am powerfully attracted to both Grand and Scott, each in his own way, but I’m put off by Rockland.) But Black was also trying to evoke characters: the personas he saw in these men, and perhaps the ones they saw in themselves.

(An earlier posting from Idols on this blog: “Today’s hunk” of 3/13/14, featuring pornstar Ken Ryker — quite a different character from the three above.)

About Jonathan Black. As far as I can tell, Idols is the only book Black has published, and he seems to have no Wikipedia page or website, so all I know about the man is what Idols says about him, in a write-up that surely is mostly, if not entirely, from Black’s own hand. Highlights:

Jonathan Black was born in Hawaii and had traveled the world by the tender age of fourteen. His father was a high ranking naval officer from Italy, hence the peripatetic nature of his formative years… Nudity has always been in his vocabulary, and was encouraged by a family of outgoing and uninhibited individuals with a liberal European attitude towards the beauty of nature and the human body.

He went to art school in Paris and learned photography in Milan. Then came to Los Angeles in 1991 and settled there.

He began shooting the male form as a hobby but then found it to be more enjoyable and took the opportunity to pursue it full time after being offered work from [“Male Special Interest”] publications on the West coast and in Europe.

And the cast of Idols. Unusually for books of male photography, the subjects are (except for one) identified by (professional) name. In order:

Brad Hunt, Jordan Scott, Chris Champion, Ted Matthews, D. J. Makens, Todd Stevens, Mark Steele, Jeff Hammond, Bruce Stradlin, Hal Rockland, Vince Rockland, Shane Rockland, all three Rocklands together, an unnamed model, Chad Ullery, Serkan Altan, Cliff Parker, Robert Stearns, Glen Hunter, Ken Ryker, Max Grand, Joshua Sterling

All exposed to our gaze.

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