GREG WEINERWhen I think about the type of career I would like to have with my own photography, Greg Weiner is one of the first names that comes to mind. For some, it may be all about name recognition or the building of a reputation through arresting imagery, but there is a part of me that is a purist and that side has tremendous admiration for a photographer like Greg who defines diversity with his work. Even if his name is not familiar to you, the chances are high that you have come across his photos without even realizing it, like the last time you were in a book store and saw the cover John Rechy novel or one of Zane's many erotic titles.
And then there is Paragon Men, the website he started which features incredible images of the muscular uber male in fine art nude and ertoic poses. It is a testament to the changing times, where people use the computer to view photos far more frequently than they do in paper form, and how a classic photographer, in every sense of the word, can evolve alongside the art form that is his career and stay current.
Greg is presently also developing a coffee table book of his favorite erotic male physique images, which will soon be available for purchase in the Paragon Store.
You can see more of Greg's work at http://www.gregweiner.com/, and http://www.paragonmen.com/.
BLISS: Tell me a little about Paragon Men. (www.paragonmen.com) When did you come up with the idea, and what brought it about?
Greg Weiner: I had a photo shoot in January and one of the models had a manager. We started talking about the lack of magazines and work and we both said that we should do this ourselves. I had the ability and he had contacts (Models) so we spoke about what we both expected from the site and formed a partnership. It took about 6 months to get the paper work in order and organize the corporation and then a few months to shoot to have some stock, so by August we had the first issue online.
B: Will Paragon be mainly a showcase for Greg Weiner photos, or will other photographers be a part of it?
GW: We are trying to do a spotlight feature on other photographers each month. Once the site begins to make some money we hope to hire other photographers, but until that point I have to do it myself.
B: There are other notable sites that showcase incredible imagery, such as Dylan Rosser's The Male Form, and yet Paragon Men still manages to stand out. What do you feel it is that makes Paragon Men so unique?
GW: When we decided to do this site, we looked at what was out there (including Dylan’s site). We really took different parts of what others had done and tried to make that work for us. So you will see some similarities in design and ideas , but having worked for Playgirl for 17 years now, we decided to mix male physique work with male erotic work. I always liked the old physique magazines from the 50’s, so I hope that a part of what we do will appeal to both people who want to see beautiful physique photos and also more erotic photos using the same techniques. We also wanted to make the site friendly to both male and female members. So maybe that is the difference?
B: How are models and photographers chosen for the site? (Assuming you use other photographers) Is there a review process?
GW: We thought at first that the models would be a problem, but so far that has been very easy. At first we were seeking models through Model Mayhem and other sites, but now we have people coming to us. I hope that continues, and we are now looking at doing a “real man” section to the site. We always have the muscle guys, model guys, and now a more “real” guy. I never really know how to tell someone that they are “real” but so far the response has been good.
B: Word of mouth has been very positive. How do you feel about the reception Paragon Men is getting?
GW: It has been overwhelming… we have only been up for 3 months and we already have over 150,000 hits which is an amazing number. We are getting members from all over the world which is also exciting. At this point the members are about where we thought they would be, not too large, but at least we can email them and ask them what they would like to see and still have some contact with them. We do get some people who want more explicit work, and that just isn’t what we are about. I am trying to do more video now, so we are hoping that it will continue to grow as well.
GW: Sorry, I jumped the gun on that one and talked about a couple of things: real men and video. We do hope to continue to grow, we want to offer a store where people can buy prints (gallery quality) and books. And the video I mentioned has been more behind the scenes work with the camera on a tripod, but now we are getting to do more work with models who want to do scenes with the video so that is new to me. I am doing the edits now too, which is fun, but I’m not very good at it yet.
GW: Wow, I started when I was 8 years old. By 10 I had a toy darkroom and started to develop my own photos. My father had always done photos, and I just took the camera and had fun. I liked the attention you got when you had a camera, but you did not have to be out front, if that makes sense.
B: How long before you found your niche?
GW: Once I got to college I worked for the newspaper and then took a class. We had to take photos of people and of course I tried to seek out some buff guys to shoot. So it happened fast.
B: You have a distinct talent for photographing men, especially nude images. Your work appeared in Playgirl for a time and helped to elevate the magazine in terms of it's artistic content. How did that collaboration come about?
GW: I had a friend who started to shoot for them first, he told me to show them my work. I had already begun to shoot fitness work for magazines. So when I met them they asked about some of the models and I asked the models if they were interested in posing and that is how that started. Although the magazine has always had art directors, it was left up to the photographers to show them models and come up with ideas of how to shoot the guys. Over the years some art directors were more hands on, but it is mainly about what is available (locations) and what the models have to offer. Some models had friends who had boats, penthouse apartments, pools, etc. and that would steer the shoot in that direction.
B: Many of the models featured in Playgirl are actually gay, and some of them are even known gay porn stars, in spite of the fact that the target market is supposedly female. What was the working relationship with Playgirl like?
GW: I have to interject a little here, about 90% of the models I have shot for PG over the years are straight, or at least they identify themselves as straight. The magazine was designed for women, meaning the articles and the way the photos were done were inspired by women or for a woman’s perspective. They always knew they had a large gay following, but I think even that following loved the fact that they guys were “straight” and that they were looking at the boys next door as opposed to gay porn stars. Now over the years they have featured models that were gay or even gay porn actors. It wasn’t that they were trying not to be dishonest about that, but like everyone, they were taken by the way someone looked as opposed to their sexual identity. The hardest thing is to try and convince a model that posing nude (even for a male audience) doesn’t really make them gay. There is a real stereo-type about that and it is very hard to over come.
GW: Well you would usually see what was available to you… the budgets were low, so you had to make the most of the things you could get for free or credit. So that was the first step… what or who did the model or I know in a certain area that would be nice to shoot. I got garages, pools, a casino in Atlantic City, lots of places to shoot because of who someone knew. But for the bigger shoots, like the college issue and the Man of the Year, the art staff would meet with me and we would come up with ideas based on what was going on around us. We did a shoot inspired by Bruce Weber’s A&F catalog shoot. The only difference was that we could show the more erotic side and didn’t have to stop at an exposed butt.
B: What about the models who appeared in the magazine? How are they chosen?
GW: They came from a lot of sources… I would scout (a lot of fun when you are younger), people would send in shots, we did some searches in different cities. Now the way they were chosen always made me a little angry. I would find a great guy and because they already had a muscle guy in an issue that year, they would pass, or they already had a black model. I always wanted to just shoot the best of what was available. Now I have that chance and I really love that part of the site. Although I do still find myself thinking about who is this type and who will be next month. So I guess the only difference is that we (my partner and I) make the final decision.
B: Once again, you are back with Playgiril, this time as the photographer of the highly anticipated Levi Johnson feature. How did you end up being the photographer for this?
GW: It is a little difficult for me to explain this, so I will leave it for now if that is OK.
B: What was Levi like during the shoot? Was he relaxed or nervous?
GW: Levi was nice during the shoot. When he first arrived he was a little private, did not really want to speak to anyone and didn't say too much. I think this was because of the situation: lots of people around that he did not know and also he was in different states of un-dress so I think that made him nervous. After we shot for a few hours and we did the nudes in private he was much easier to work with and opened up a little more.
B: We know that he made the decision not to show full frontal images, but were any taken during the session?
GW: He kept pretty covered up the entire time, even when we did nudes he always had himself covered until the last minute. So no nudes were taken of him.
B: Do you think he has a look that could lead to other work in the modeling field?
GW: He is a great looking guy. It just depends on how he is handled at this point: I don't think he is really tall enough to model but he could be a spokesperson if he were to take lessons: acting, voice etc. I think the route he is going down now is more for the quick money so I don't think he will do those things.
B: Everyone wants to know this - not sure if you can answer directly, but perhaps coyly. If you can't, I'll understand. How would you rate Levi's "Johnson" in comparison to others you've photographed?
GW: Everyone thinks I saw more than they did, he really kept covered up, so I could not really compare him to other nude models.
GW: As far as I know, they were going to do 3-4 spreads on him and the magazine that is being published in March/April. We shot a lot of content, but they may hold back if they feel that it is over.
B: Did he talk about the Palin situation or family?
GW: He did not really talk about the family or Sarah, I mean he would answer questions if you asked him, but we did not really have a lot of free time during the shoot and also ET was there the entire time so he was always watching what he said as not to get into trouble. It was a difficult shoot because of this, I think if they had not been there we would have gotten sexier shots and a little more freedom with things as well. But it was a job and you do the best you can with what you have. I have read so many different things on the web: some good and others bad, blaming me for the shoot, etc. I think we did a great job with the time we had and the situations we worked under, so I am proud of the shoot.
B: In spite of the fact that most of us photography lovers asscociate you with fine art male images, you've done a variety of different types of work. I used to be a manager for Borders so I was already familiar with some of the titles whose covers you photographed, including Zane, Janet Evanovich, Shannon Holmes, Matthew Rettenmund, and one of the sexiest book covers, which you did for John Rechy's The Color of Night. How did you get involved in this industry?
GW: I wish I could say it came to me, but one of my best friends did book covers and I asked him if I should try to do that as well. He really goes after the market, but I have a few art directors that I work with. It use to be a great resource for making money and being creative, but now with book sales down, they use a lot of stock and are not as creative about the shoots.
B: Your work has also been used for HBO, Showtime, Arista Records, Sony Music and Playboy. Can you talk a bit about what you did with these companies?
GW: Well, I love working and I love photography. The worst part about NYC was that you really had to do one type of work. I have always liked shooting, so I do a lot of different things, some fashion, some travel, portraits, etc. So I would interview with everyone. Some places like the fact that I did different styles of work. So if someone liked your work they would call your portfolio in for a meeting and then it would go from there. I got lucky to work with some really nice creative people and I am still friendly with most of them today. Although the work is very hard to come by today. I am still trying.
B: Your work is incredibly diverse, as evidenced by your website (www.gregweiner.com). Do you feel as if people are aware of the various type of images that you do, or are you primarily recognized for you male photos?
GW: I think most people still know me from the male physique work. I did shoot a lot of actors, and they are not as aware of the work. That probably helped me a little with shooting portraits, I would usually just show a portfolio of portrait work. Now with websites, they can see it all. I don’t mind, it is what I am I guess.
B: You've always been a huge inspiration for me as a photographer, but who were you inspired by?
GW: I always liked Bruce Weber, so when I moved to NYC in the late 80’s I would call and send a resume over to his studio. Finally about 2 years into assisting, I got the call. So I got to work with him for a week. I was asked to go full time with him, but I had already planned to live in Milan, Italy and did not want to change that part of my life. It would have been so different if I had taken that chance. Not really better, but it would have changed my life in a different way. I also liked August Sander, just loved the portraits.
B: You're from the golden age of photography, before photoshop, when we used film. How do you compare that to the new digital age?
GW: I wish I had all the money back from the film and processing! I enjoyed the way we use to work, and I feel like it is so different that students today will never know what it was like to wait a couple of hours to see if what you thought you shot was really on the film. But they just learn in a different way now, although some schools still make them learn the old way too. It just happened so fast, but now that it is here, it is OK, I kind of like the digital. I do like being able to know when the shot is done. I don’t love the black and white yet, but it is changing.
B: Do you feel that photoshop has been a blessing or a curse to the art form?
GW: I have to be honest, I don’t do a lot of photoshop on my nudes. So I don’t think it has really changed that much for me. I do clean up faces or if someone is broken out a little you can clean that up. I don’t do a lot of special effects though, so for me it is a blessing to be able to make someone look better. I do enjoy some of the art that is made from photoshop too. So you can have it both ways.
B: Where do your ideas for photo shoots come from?
GW: I tend to do a lot of research, looking at old art books, movies, other magazines. Even if I shoot someone in the studio against a background, I tend to still look at something that has been done before and see if I can make it mine with the lighting and filters I use. Sometimes I will see a movie and really just like the way a person looks in the movie, so that inspires me a lot.
B: Is there any particular shoot that stands out in your mind, for good or bad reasons?
GW: I had to shoot Alec Baldwin, and I was very nervous. We only had 15 minutes and we had to drive out to the Hamptons to do the shoot at his house. This was when he was still with Kim Bassinger. So it was raining very hard, we got to the house early and Kim answered the door for us. He was not there, so after going inside the house (she served us water) he came in and said we had to leave. He did not want anyone around his kid. But then he called and had her go to someone else’s home and we went into the basement to set up. My assistant is a friend of mine from Virginia, she has a very thick southern accent. So once she started talking, he forgot about the time and let us stay until we got the shots. So that was a fun shoot. It was my first big star shoot, but I still get very nervous.
B: Every photographer is different and works best with certain types of individuals. I love the newbies because they are less jaded and very eager to learn. Do you have a preference?
GW: I like the new models, but sometimes it is a lot of work. I like people who are just not nervous and are into making great shots. I know that doing nudes can intimidate people, so I try to make them as comfortable as possible. I give them room to change and I tend to look away when they are exposed except to shoot. I hate the ones where it is all about them and not about making great images. I don’t mind a little bragging and showing off, but as long as it doesn’t take over I am good.
B: Some of the readers were not aware that you photograph both sexes. Do you have a preference for one over the other?
GW: You know, I have tried to shoot female nudes over the years, but I really only see the male form. I don’t think I am very good at shooting women. I like to shoot portraits of women, the beauty of that is fun. But for the form, I really just like shooting men or couples are pretty fun too, because of the way they move together.
B: Is your approach to shooting males different than when you are working with female models?
GW: Not really, I just try to look for the light (if natural) or if I have to set up a situation, I try to make them comfortable and move them according to what I am trying to achieve.
B: Could you name 5 popular photographers working today and make a statement on why they appeal to your own sensibilities?
GW: Bruce Weber…. I just always liked his work. He really loves what he does and it is just beautiful.
Mark Henderson…. He is doing some nice work in both Texas and CA and really beautiful nudes.
Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott… they just shot Penelope Cruz for Vanity Fair, and I really loved the shots. I don’t know that much about them, but just to shoot a star and make it look like art and not like everyone else is amazing.
Greg Gorman… I always loved his black and white portraits, the old Hollywood look.
Those were the ones that came to mind.
B: Is there anything that you feel is missing from the types of images being created these days that you would like to see more of?
GW: Oh yeah. The reason I liked the Vanity Fair story was because it was original and not the same old Annie shoot or an Ent Weekly shoot of a star with so much publicity around them that they look like a statue. It was very creative and there isn’t much of that left anywhere. All the magazines want snap shots now, so very few want to take a chance and do setups.
B: Are there any concepts or ideas that you have wanted to create with your art but have yet to do?
GW: I am sure there are, I don’t really shoot a lot of themes, so I just tend to set things up and shoot. I do think about the light and background, but usually it is just watching the models to see what they bring to the shoot and how to capture that.
B: What about locations? Is there any place or country that you've always wanted to photograph but have yet to get around to?
GW: I love Italy, so anytime I can get there I do. I would also like to shoot in Brazil, but just get nervous and now so many people have shot those guys, so I don’t know if there is a market for that.
B: Do you prefer studio work or location shoots?
GW: I love studio work, it is just safer and sometimes more creative. But I started with location (just because I did not have a studio) and with no money you are forced to make something work. So it is 50/50 with me at the moment.
B: Do you have a peak hour that you prefer to shoot? If so, why?
GW: I really like sunrise/sunset light, but it is very hard to make anyone get up for those shots. So now I light most of the shoots even if they are on location, so it really doesn’t matter. But when I can, I will force someone to get going early, it is just magical when no one is around and the light is just right.
B: On a personal side, do you have any heroes?
GW: Not really, anyone who is nice.
B: What can we expect from you in the future?
GW: Well, I hope to continue with the site, and I am also working on a book of my work including out takes from my days at Playgirl. I do still work with them, but it isn’t as much as before. I do the shoots for the website. But I think it will be fun to see all the guys I have worked with over the years and how things change. I got permission from them last year and I have started to scan images, so that is coming up soon.
B: What is your ultimate goal in terms of your work?
GW: I am hoping to get to a point where my work has a life. Meaning people really want to see it and appreciate it in a gallery. I am working on that, but it does take time and a lot of work getting to that point and I just haven’t had the time to put into a show.
B: Just to lighten things up a bit - can you tell me 5 fun facts about Greg Weiner that people would be surprised to know?
GW: I am a total klutz, I trip over the lights all the time. I still have a crush on Kate Jackson. I also have a crush on Al Pacino, I hate getting hair cuts. I am happy.
B: Any last words?
GW: Just that I hope that people will come to the site and let us know what you think. It can only get better. Thanks for the time.
Hope to hear from you soon.
©2010 Sean Dibble