24/7 - TV-MA (This program is not intended for viewers under the age of 18. Parental Discretion is advised)
The television landscape is littered with reality programs, but the truth is that it is a manufactured reality. The drama, suspense, intrigue and comedy that used to populate our viewing choices has been replaced by a succession of largely untalented, crass fame seekers who have no issues with airing their dirty laundry to the world in exchange for the notoriety that lends itself more to infamy rather than any true star power. We have become a nation of voyeurs who take pleasure in the pitfalls of other average people, secretly enjoying the fact that their lives are more fucked up than our own, and laughing at the stupidity that they display with thoughtless abandon. It is simple escapism when we have no desire to feel any true emotions or be forced into deep thoughts about what we are seeing.
Out of the ashes of lost creativity comes a man who understands our voyeuristic fantasies, and is not afraid to take those thoughts that we hide for politically correct reasons and display them in a direct and uncompromising manner, making it difficult for us to turn our heads. His work features all the elements that can only be found on late night cable stations that don’t worry about network censorship. His name is Desi Arnaz and he is the heart and sole of The ZEDNERAM Show.
One of the key components necessary to being successful in any field of the arts is the ability to understand both sides, both as the creator and the viewer. If your vision only works for you than you run the risk of alienating your audience and this can prove twice as daunting when exploring the more risqué side of life. Desi is well aware of what it is like to be the object on display, as well as the creator of the object itself. Outside of the world of entertainment, he would be referred to as a jack of all trades, while in the realm of the arts he is what is known as multi talented. His resume dips into many different fields. He is a dancer, a recording artist, a professional choreographer, a model and a photographer. His work in the world of dance includes commercials, stage productions, award shows and videos. He has worked with such luminaries in the world of choreography such as Cynthia Quintela, Barry Lather, and Wade Robson, and their collective associations include The Academy Awards, Alvin Ailey, The American Dance Theater, Britney Spears, NSYNC, Janet and Michael Jackson. If you’re going to keep any company, this is an impressive list.
In the world of photography, we are finally becoming more accustomed to seeing men as sex objects, posed in provocative manners with varying degrees of exposed flesh. The game of catch-up still exists in terms of what is acceptable (or considered art) when it comes to female versus male nudity, but Zedneram refuses to bow to such convention. Instead of worrying about how an image will be received, he has ventured into the taboo arena and placed men in poses that had previously been reserved for female models. As a result, we have a Zedneram staple and unofficial trademark: the male beaver shot.
There are numerous adjectives that could be used to describe a Zedneram image, depending on which side of the cultural debate you are standing. Those of us who are enlightened roll our eyes when some of his work is dismissed as pornographic, for we know that what he has given us is bold, daring, sensual, erotic, emotional, thought provoking, original and honest. He has pulled the blinds up and allowed us to peek into the window, secretly watching as his models tap into the deepest parts of their personalities and reveal the most basic and primitive emotions including joy, anger, and of course lust. The poses and expressions reek of freedom, and the models portray a sense of liberation not usually seen in the male pin up field.
Another aspect that is missing from the field of male imagery is diversity. The beauties represented come in all sizes, shapes and hair colors, but the vast majority of them conform to the same general set of features and skin tones. Zedneram has chosen not to limit the type of model represented in his portfolio. He champions people of color, but maintains that others need to realize that this phrase is all encompassing and not limited to what we see on a employment application, such as white, black, Asian or Hispanic. In fact, when you take the world as a whole, people of color represent the majority, and yet the presentation of them in fine art photography constitutes a separate genre or categorization.Not so in Desi’s world. He has a strict code of non discrimination when it comes to his models, and this transcends into a certain type of look as well. So you don’t fit the standard physical mode of what people envision when they think of models? No problem. You can still find a spot in front of the Zedneram lens, and the results of the shoot may even make a believer out of those who would question choosing a certain model.
That’s the great thing about life, especially when it involves the Zedneram man…variety. We all don’t have to eat the same thing everyday, go to the same places, listen to the same music, have the same hobbies, follow the same religions, believe the same principles, have the same sexual orientation, aspire to the same goals, share the same style or be a carbon copy of what some standardized notion tells us we should be. Each of us can be an individual, even if our surroundings or doctrines only allow this to be possible within our hearts and minds. Every one of us is the star of our own reality programs, and The ZEDNERAM Show exists to showcase those unique differences.
I remember living in L.A. from 1989 to 1991. I remember walking into Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard and coming face to face with Bette Midler. I remember walking from my apartment on Wilcox Avenue in the heart of Hollywood, crossing the street during a traffic jam and finding myself at Barry White's car window. I remember all the male and female adult film stars who lived in my complex, the Hollywood Studio Club. I remember when the building started going to pot and moving to Cynthia (Ave? St.?) in West Hollywood, across from the famed Larabee Sound Studio, and sitting on my first floor balcony and watching all the 80's and 90's recording stars like Paula Abdul, Prince, Tony Toni Tone and too many others to list come and go. I remember when Pia, the woman who lived above me, said her boyfriend was coming home after a long trip, and then bumping into him in the stairwell, only to realize that it was the actor Judd Nelson. I even remember the weekly visits from his good friend Lenny Kravitz, who would knock on my balcony door to ask me if Judd was home. I'd had lunch at the Greenery with Joey Stefano and even met Jeff Styker, but what I remember most is how normal all of this seemed at the time. L.A. is littered with the famous so running into them becomes commonplace, but it made me realize that I was not overly taken with celebrity.
Well, maybe not those celebrities.
I had my own personal heroes, a few singers, a few writers, and quite a few photographers. Had I run into Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Tom Bianchi or Richard Avedon, then perhaps I would have turned into a screaming, teary eyed teenager. Those visionaries, along with the ones who have come along since then account for my hero worship, and I count myself among the fans of quite a few. It is difficult to describe the feeling of being inspired by individuals whose talent you have studied to refine your own craft. The idea of these personal heroes becoming accessable to me is the closest I've come to being a star fucker. It is another emotion all together to have your phone ring, pick it up, and discover that one of them is on the other line.
The first impression I had of Desi Arnaz (the photographer behind Zedneram, not the actor) was that his voice sounded like a smile. There is a warmth in his rich baritone that comes through and without even realizing it, you are smiling too. He speaks candidly, is upbeat and free of negativity, offering nothing but praise and support for all his fellow artists. When discussing his many accomplishments, he is quick to point out the photographers whom he has admiration for, like Justin Monroe and Scott Marrs, and making sure to mention which image he loves in your own portfolio. His speach and manner of conversation puts him in a grey zone if you're trying to figure him out in the sense of ethnicity. Here is a man who champions the people of all races, origins, ethnic backgrounds and creeds, who doesn't seem to fit within any one category, but is more akin to being a child of the world.
There are many different dimensions not only in terms of the talent, but in terms of the man himself, so I decided to split his interview into three parts. In the first part, I wanted to explore the person behind the lens in an attempt to gain some insight into the mind that creates the magic.
BLISS: When did you know that you wanted to be a photographer?
ZEDNERAM:As a professional dancer (not stripper..lol), I've worked all over the country. I would see so many amazing, beautiful and unique looking people. I've always felt there was a lack of representation of more ethnic people in popular media. I decided to start photographing people to showcase the beauty and uniqueness in all people. I remember running up to people and saying "I'm going to be a photographer and once I start I'm going to make you a famous model." I think people thought I was crazy but usually if I say I'm going to do something I follow through. Very driven that way.
B: Do you remember the first camera you ever used? Z: Huumm, it was a Canon something..lol I don't remember it's been a few.
B: Did you have artistic leanings as a youth? Z: Not really. My older brother was an AMAZING artist. He would draw very interesting cartoon characters and I would try to copy him.
B: Many of the photographers that I meet, especially the ones who take provocative images, are actually rather shy and introverted. Are you the same way or do you have a more outgoing personality? Z: Yes, I’m very shy. But usually if I have to work, I’m very outgoing. I would never walk up to someone in a club that I was interested in and hit on them... OMG NO WAY! B: Who were the biggest influences in your life?
Z:Music was always a big influence growing up. I remember seeing Prince in the late 70's wearing thigh high boots and G-string underwear. I remember being attracted to his sense of freedom. He was just himself and it was AMAZING. He was able to do all types of music, Funk, R & B, Rock and it was great. No limitations. I was also in love with Donna Summer. Her voice was and still is AMAZING. I used to sit in front of the stereo system and listen to her albums over and over as a child. Very interesting, if any of us remember in the 70's recording artists would have double albums and some would have posters on the inside. I would just look at the images for hours. The Rock group KISS was pretty phenomenal to me as well. The make up, costumes, live shows and all. I know I still pull inspiration for a lot of my work from this era. Oh yeah and Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter was so HOT and beautiful....just WOW!
B: Where did you grow up and what kind of childhood did you have?
Z:I was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. I had a pretty great child hood. My parents had all sorts of friends from all walks of life. So I was used to diversity. My family is pretty diverse as well. I was very shy and quiet in school, got picked on a lot, but that all changed once I discovered PerformingArtsSchool. That's were I found my groove.
B: Society has a long standing standard of beauty that I find to be somewhat limited. What is your definition of beauty?
Z:Beauty can come in may ways as we all know. My work showcases many ethnicities in all shapes, sizes and beautiful colors. Our society bases popularity on a specific look, a certain body type, an outward manifestation of social class, or the expression of a particular attitude. Zedneram strives to surpass conditional definitions of tolerance and searches for the true essence of unconditional acceptance.
B: Art is subjective and as such, many photographers have a tendency to doubt their abilities when they start out. Have you always been confident about your talent or did this develop over time? Z: Starting out I just knew I had a vision that needed to be captured. I wasn't that confident in the beginning but I keep moving forward.
B: You are based in California. What are your feelings about the East coast? Z: Actually I shoot all over the country. I'm an East Coast baby, I love the east and it’s raw truth. I had to grow to love the West Coast, but love it here now. Both Coasts have many great things about them.
B: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Z:London, Paris for all the fashion and energy. I also love the underground world which is not so glamorous. I love the grit, edginess of real life and people. I also would love to be in Africa and Russia for the same reasons......it's a beautiful world out there. There are so many amazing places I would love to be!
B: Photographing beautiful, barely clothed men for a living can take its toll on a personal life. Have you had any difficulties in establishing relationships due to insecurity or trust issues from your partners? Z: No not at all. People just have to be confident. These images are illusions and fantasy, none of these models really walk around looking and posing like this 24/7..lol..but really.
B: Male nude and erotic images are slowly making their way to the forefront in terms of acceptance. Do you think you have contributed to this?
Z: I would hope so in may ways, but I'm not that famous in the photography world..lol. But I do hope that my images showcase more diverse male beauty and not just one type or ethnicity.
B: What response do you have for the people who dismiss some of your work as pornographic? Z: It used to bother me a great deal in the beginning when I first started, but I can’t focus on people’s opinions all the time. I just keep going following and trusting my vision.
B: Today's pornography has changed in some publications like 2 Magazine, which depicts males in erotic situations, but still maintains high photographic standards. By the same token, some fine art photos are highly explicit. What is your opinion of pornography, in general, and what (if at all) do you feel separates it from art?
Z:The lighting! LOL
B: What fuels you passion and drive on a daily basis?
Z:I get inspiration from all walks of life. Every day I wake up is new, something fresh and exciting. I love seeing other photographers work and vision.
B: If you were not a photographer, what would you see yourself doing?
Z:Anything within the arts. I'm a professional choreographer/dancer and also a recording artist.
B: My friends define me by two traits: I'm addicted to Pepsi and my love of animals, which is evident by the vast number of pets I have. What are the characteristics that people who know you would immediately point out if asked?
Z:I'm not quite sure!
B:Do you have any vices?
B:Can you tell me 5 things about yourself that even those closest to you would be surprised to know?
Z:I can't even think of one thing...lol
B:Is there anything in your life that you wished you could have done differently?
Z:Not been so shy growing up.
B: What are you most proud of as a person? Z: That when I say I'm going to do something I actually do it. I never wanted to be the person to say "I should have, could have or would have."
B:What are the things that you value the most?
Z:There are quite a few things. Too many to list.
B: If you had the power to change anything in the world, what would it be? Z: War, Death and Evil.