Blake Little knows a thing or two about desire. In his commercial work in Los Angeles, he shoots actors and celebrities, our culture’s avatars of desirability, for glossy magazines, book covers, and Hollywood movie posters. In his art—what we used to call a photographer’s “personal work”—his subjects have included naked men and women dripping in vast amounts of viscous honey and achingly butch cowboys of the gay rodeo circuit. He has also published three books of almost shockingly seductive portraits of ordinary gay men.
Little’s fourth installment in this series, Primary, once more shows us regular joes, but this time naked, or mostly so. In their studied nonchalance, some of the poses and settings— standing in front of barbells at the gym, balancing on a girder, placing split wood into a blazing firepit, holding a dandelion in a verdant meadow—would suggest instantiations of a typology of everyday masculinity, were it not for the subjects’ unclothed state. But naked they are, placing the images squarely—or, perhaps, obliquely—in the realm of the erotic, the realm of desire.
Primary, then, knowingly delivers a kind of double fantasy: firstly, of the rugged men it portrays and the lives the pictures make us fancy they lead (Barthes’s “blind field”), and secondly, of a widespread communality conjured by the iterations of the images, the sameness within difference. As for any good fantasy, or, as Barthes showed us, any good photograph, the power of Little’s portraits comes from their condition as half real, half apparitional. We apprehend Little’s subjects, commune with them, desire them, as the real men they are, but also as the sexy members of an envisioned brotherhood—to which we might also belong—that we imagine, or want, or need them to be. In their idea of their subjects as ordinary, in their connotations of community, in their considered casualness, in the way they erect a scaffolding on which we can hang our desires, Little’s images give us his own conception of the erotic photograph. Barthes wrote of the way desire operates in an erotic photograph, as opposed to a pornographic one, what we might say of an image by Little: “it takes the spectator outside its frame, and it is there that I animate this photograph and that it animates me.”
Joseph R. Wolin, curator, professor, critic.
PRIMARY is Blake Little’s first nude portrait book, the 4th monograph in his groundbreaking series of gay male portraiture. This book is his largest and most extensive project with 166 color images in a 10.5 x 12.5 large hardcover format.
“The book came out of desire for changing my process and to combine my portrait work and my previous male nude studies resulting in authentic and intimate portraits. My main focus with PRIMARY was to capture the essence of the individual and the connection with the subject while still concentrating on figure, composition and the environment in the photograph.
PRIMARY presents men from ages 22-64 and documents my particular gay community which is outside the mainstream. The individuals in my book are friends, friends of friends and other folks I contacted online through this organic network of people. Many declined to be photographed nude for various reasons so I salute the bravery of those who allowed me to capture them. I feel a strong camaraderie with the men in PRIMARY.”
Blake Little, December 2021