Once upon a time, in a faraway place called Monroeland, people used to whisper about a man named Justin. It was believed that he could create magic. The legend was born because of the power he had over minds. They flocked to him from all over, male and female, desiring nothing more than to be a part of his own unique world. The townspeople were curious about how he managed to do this, for they never saw him with a wand, only a camera that he carried around with him like a talisman.
Every night, when the moon was full, curiosity would get the best of someone and they would sneak down to the corner of Imagination and Creativity where the brightly colored house stood out amongst the rows of simple red brick homes that all looked the same. Not Justin’s house, with it’s one of a kind architecture that everyone seemed to describe in a different manner. Marco went one evening and described it as a castle, but Ambrosia was adamant that it resembled a cave. Old man Bryce told everyone who would listen that this was one of Justin’s magic tricks. He called it Perception.
And then, on that fateful Halloween night, a group of young guys known throughout Monroeland as The Studs because of their beautiful physiques, decided that they were going to sneak over to Justin’s place and snoop around until they discovered the source of his fabled magic. Not to be outdone, a group of girls known around town as The Clique, made up of the beautiful ones, both conventional and unconventional, insisted that they be taken along.
When they finally reached Imagination Lane, they noticed that only a single light was on in front of the house, but its beam was directed upwards, straight to the clouds. They approached with caution, each of them following the shaft of light with their eyes, so they did not notice when the front door opened of its own accord. There, framed in the doorway, with smoke billowing around him stood a broad shouldered man, with muscled legs, torso and arms, wearing nothing but black motorcycle boots and white satin briefs. The Studs and The Clique all turned to look at him and he smiled, spreading his arms wide in greeting.
"Welcome to the Art House," he told them, and then turned and walked back through the smoke.
The Clique hesitated, but after a nod from The Studs, each of them walked up to the door and passed through the smoke. As they crossed the threshold, a strange sensation passed through each of them, a feeling of complete freedom that seemed to melt inhibition, wash away judgment, and clear the senses. It was if they were seeing for the first time…really seeing, not just looking.
Together they walked down a seemingly endless hallway lined with rooms whose doors stood ajar. On the left, only darkness was visible through one such doorway, above which they could see a gold plaque that read THE RABBIT HOLE. On the right, a bluish light could be seen just past the entrance of another doorway. They moved closer and peeked inside. There were two men in the room; one of them was standing in front of the other who was sitting in a chair, with a noticeable erection. Above this doorway another plaque read INTERROGATION, and in the space of time that it took for each of them to read the words, the standing man had punched the one in the chair, so they did not see the blood and spit fly out as his erection became stiffer.
They moved forward, past more doors, seeing the alter with the beautiful dark haired man who stood naked with a large cross in front of his genitals, or the dark corner where a werewolf was mounting a kneeling man from behind with the moon shining through the window, and in yet another door, the two guys frolicking naked in a toilet stall. And then suddenly, he was there in front of them again, framed against the only closed door.
"What is this magic?" One of The Studs had moved to the front of the group to pose the question, but his voice was now full of wonder rather than skepticism.
"Where is your wand?" Asked one of The Clique, while using her index finger to trace a circle around her hardened nipple whose imprint was fully displayed beneath her white blouse.
"I have no wand," replied Justin. "Just this camera. And the magic comes from here," he told them, placing a finger to his head. "I create illusions, scenes of fantasy that I bring to life in my images. I defy convention as I tap into the sexual subconscious in each of my subjects. I free the minds and hidden desires of those like yourself and provide a visual playground for them to explore that which they normally keep hidden."
"And why do they flock to you? What spells have you cast upon these people?" asked another of The Studs, as his hand cupped his own growing erection.
"There are no spells, just opportunity. I offer them a chance to see themselves in the surreal. Far beyond the limitations that they may have placed upon themselves."
"Show us." They all said in unison, taking one step forward and gazing at Justin with unmistakable longing. It was no longer enough to be a spectator, searching for the secrets. They wanted to be a part of this world. They wanted to be crafted into his vision.
"Very well. I shall take you through this one closed door, where I keep my PLAY THINGS, but you must promise to enter only with an open mind and be fearless."
Justin withdrew a large, old fashioned brass key from his pocket, revolved to face the door and placed it in the lock, turning twice to the right and once to the left until there was an audible click. The door began to open inward as if in slow motion. The Studs and The Clique took another step forward, but came to a halt as Justin raised one black gloved hand and pointed to a set of hooks on the wall not far from the door.
"Leave your clothes and inhibitions there," he told them. "I’ll meet you inside."
The story is left unfinished because like the man it refers to, there is no ending in sight. What better way to start talking about Justin Monroe than with the creation of a modern fairy tale, meant solely for adults? After all, the man himself is like a living animated character, for only in those fantasy worlds do we usually find this type of creativity, or this level of imagination.
There is power in the images created by photographers, be it the ability to inspire us, shock us, arouse us or make us think, and it takes a unique vision and keen talent to be able to stand out amongst so many talented individuals. When the photographer becomes the celebrity because of his work behind the lens, or when his talent can somehow eclipse the incredible beauty of his subjects, you know you are dealing with something special.
In Justin’s world, it is not enough to showcase beauty. It is not enough to take an eye catching image. He doesn’t just craft photos, he creates worlds, sometimes alternate universes where anything is possible and anything goes. He has flipped pure sexuality on its head and dived deeper into the mystery of desire.
I remember the first time I saw a Justin Monroe photograph, but more importantly, I remember what I felt at the moment. It was total wonder, mixed with awe and (as a photographer) a bit of envy. How the HELL does he do that? I can still hear that in my head. And yet, I could say that about quite a few photographers whose work I admire. But with Justin, it’s different because you never get used to his style. You can’t, because the moment you attempt to put him into a box or categorize it, he changes and is trying something different. The minute your eyes relax and you’ve accepted what you are seeing; he has already pushed two more buttons, as you try to keep up.
Sex is overt, in your face and unapologetic in Justin’s world. All those thoughts that we store only in the deep recesses of our personal fantasy brain hard drives, he brings to the surface and showcases. And while some of his images may give Middle America a collective heart attack, it would be impossible to deny the sheer genius of his work.
Truth be told, not everyone is a fan. There are those naysayers who complain that Justin is just a reinvention of David LaChappelle who was also known for the bright colors and images that told bizarre stories. They cry out that David had a book called LaChappelle Land and that Justin has only borrowed that style and replaced the celebrities with porn stars and gay pop icons like Amanda LaPore. But this is merely a surface argument and proves that they have not taken the time to explore the incredible depth and diversity in Justin's work. Every great artist, and Justin is just that...a great artist, can be linked to some form of inspiration, and regardless of the similarities in the style of some of their work, Justin has moved beyond what LaChappelle created, pushed the envalope and broken more boundaries. Sexuality in LaChappelle Land was suggestive. In Monroeland it is overt, explicit and impossible to deny.
Andy Warhol was a revolutionary artist, who some argue was one of the greatest pop artists of his and later generations. Some of his most memorable work involved transforming the art of others until it became a distinctly Warhol piece. Justin has done this as well, crafting his own twisted take on Alice in Wonderland in his first book, DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE, and he has taken it 3 steps forward with his soon to be released new book PLAY THINGS. He is the modern day Warhol, and like him, has a stable of regulars that appear in his work. How long before we will see the creation of films and the making of celebrities from his choice of models? Does the future hold a movie called Justin Monroe's FILTH?
There is only one way to get inside the mind of such a visionary artist like Justin Monroe, and that is to allow him to speak for himself, eliminating the ribald speculation about what he does and how he does it. After all, it is a world that he created that we are allowed to enjoy, with him sitting high on a throne gauging our reactions.
BLISS: Were your first images in the same vein as what you do now or were they more straightforward?
JUSTIN MONROE: When I first began, I was shooting more editorials and mainstream fashion for magazines. They were always pleased with my work, but I did make them a little nervous. There was a turning point in my career when I took a leap of faith and decided that I was going to shoot what I wanted and stay true to my voice. At this point, a lot of clients avoided me like the plague. But it was OK. I was ready for the aftermath. I believe making this choice was critical for my career and creativity or I might not be shooting today.
B: What type of upbringing did you have? Did you have the same vivid imagination when your were a kid?
JM: When I was a child, growing up in a small town the midwest, having Catholicism shoved down my throat, as I stripped the neighbor kids in the barn, I was always looking for a thrill or an escape or anything to get me the hell out of Oklahoma. I kept hoping a tornado would come and whisk me away to Oz.
B: Do you have any influences in terms of photographers, or do you just follow your own vision?
JM: The photographers that inspire me the most, in fact they are responsible for my photography career, is Pierre and Gilles. When I first saw their work, I got that feeling that you get when you meet someone for the first time, but feel like you've known them forever. Their work struck such a note with me, that I knew at that instant, that's what I wanted to do. I love their use of color, all the preparation and detail that goes into their shoots, and the extravagance that goes into each image.
B: One of the things that you are known for is the overt sexuality in your photos. What is your view on nudity in photography, as well as being intensly erotic?
JM: I love nudity in photography. In fact we all love nudity, lets face it. If you say you don't, then you're a hypocrite. Or you've been brainwashed by someone at some point in your life to believe its taboo or darn right offensive. The human body is one of the most amazing complex beautiful things on our planet. So why shouldn't we celebrate it? Why should we cover it up and keep it hidden? And as far as eroticism, it's like going to the carnival and getting a big fat juicy candied apple, taking a bite, having it squirt all over your mouth, liking it off your fingers, and enjoying every bite down to the core.
(Yes...that's Perez Hilton as a perverted Humpty Dumpty)
B: I don't know if you're aware of this, but quite a few models who have clearly stated that they would not shoot nudes amend that and say "except for Justin Monroe". Why do you think so many are willing to disrobe for you?
JM: There is an element of trust that I have acquired over the years and I feel if a model is going to expose themselves to my camera and the world, I have a responsibility to make them look absolutely amazing. It taps into their ego a little bit to know that people will be looking at their images and wanting them. Also I think they secretly want to get naked for me. Hehehehe
B: Within the world of photography, you have created a huge name for yourself. I have interviewed quite a few models and photographers and your name comes up in quite a few of those features. Are you aware of the impact you are having within this industry?
JM: Sometimes it's difficult to really know the impact of your work. If you sit around and question, "what is everyone going to think?", "who will this appeal to?", "is this original or has this been done before?", all those mind fucking irritating questions that one might ask oneself, I would never get anything done. I definitely wouldn't have the balls to do what I do. So I don't think about it much. I just keep my head down, and keep working.
B: Let's talk about your first book, DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE. How did that come about?
JM:DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE was destined to be my first book because it had to be a journey. It had to be a voyage from beginning to end. Created in a world where I could control what people saw. Using the metaphor, down the rabbit hole, I feel has so many different meanings for each individual, and people could make their own judgments on what I was trying to say. Even though the images were very cut and dry and specific, the meaning behind them had to be open to individual interpretation. When I was watching the movie Matrix, the part that said a lot to me was when Morphius offered Neo the red pill or the blue pill. He told Neo that you can take the blue pill and wake up safe in your bed and never know the truth, or you can take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole really goes.
B: Your new book, PLAY THINGS, comes out next year. It's far more erotic than the first book. Was this a conscious decision?
JM: Having PLAY THINGS extremely erotic was a conscious decision. As I get older, I become more of a pervert and it makes my work better.
B: Describe the concept for the new book and why you chose to do this one.
JM:PLAY THINGS is a look into the mind of a deranged perverted toy maker who creates living sex toys in his downtown skid row toy shop. He works tirelessly with only coffee and cigarettes to fuel his mad demented ideas of perversion. Never sleeping, always busy, creating erotic little demons to let loose onto the world.
B: I feel as if some of your images have hidden messages or truths. I applauded when you did the series with the two guys fighting while being aroused. This is a reality for some people and you were willing to show that. What was the response to those photos?
JM: The editorial you speak of was called INTERROGATION. It's basically a General interrogating a soldier with blood spit and two extremely big erections. This one scared the shit out of people. There was a big debate. It was very controversial as to if I should have taken it this far. And for me, I believe that art should create conversation and debate, stimulation between two people. Not everyone has to have the right side. Some people can love it, and some people can hate it. And I don't care which side you are on because that's not the point. The point is to create awareness in conversation.
B: An artist like yourself must be used to the praise, but when working within certain genres, you are bound to get some negative feedback as well. What types of opposition to your work have you been faced with?
JM:My book DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE was banned in the midwest by religious groups and that terrifies the shit out of me because there's only two things in the world that terrify me: born again Christians and hairy men.
B: If a model wants to work with you, what are the most important qualities that you look for?
JM: They have to have a willingness to try things new and work hard. They have to have a gorgeous ass and a strong work ethic. They have to be comfortable in their own skin. They have to jump into character, not just stand there and model. That bores the shit out of me. I really like a model that will push the envelop and step outside of their comfort zone.
B: Speaking of looks, you're very handsome yourself, with an amazing physique. Do you appear in your own photos? If so, are you as overtly sexual in your self portraits?
JM: I do make cameos in my images, and take on the role just the same as my models do. So if that means show a little ass, then show a little ass I do. In fact, ask my assistant Yasma, any opportunity I have to jump in front of the lens, I'm there.
B: Tell us a little about your website, JustinMonroe.com
JM: There's lots of fun stuff on JustinMonroe.com. You can go there to see current work, photo galleries, and even an XXX gallery for all you dirty birds out there. You can order prints and books and see what were currently up to.
B: Have you thought about taking it to a new level and directing?
JM: I would love to get into video. Conceptualizing and art directing come naturally to me and I am an amazing story teller. It would be very exciting and I feel it's just around the corner.
B: What's next for you in terms of projects?
JM: It's a little secret, but I'm also working on a new book called CHERRY. Keep your eyes out for it; it will be in book stores soon! It's a little something I put together for the sweet tooth. Hehehe
In December of 2007, Janet Jackson released the first single off her soon to be released new CD, Discipline. The song was called Feedback, and it opens with Janet, in breathy voice, cooing the phrase “light skin, dark skin, my Asian persuasion”. This is worth noting because up to that point, few, if any, songs by a popular artist made mention of Asians in a romantic or sexually desirable way. Other minority groups had crossed that bridge, including African Americans and Latinos, even though there was still an undertone that put them in a niche or almost fetish category, as if desiring these individuals should be viewed as something outside the norm.
When it comes to racial and ethnic groups, Asians appear to get the short end of the stick, both literally and metaphorically.Perhaps due to the fact that many fall under what is considered the average height for an American male, coupled with the softness of their features, and the ever present stereotype regarding penis size, it is hard for some people to view them as masculine or sexual beings.Whenever we are presented with images of them in film or television, they are relegated to one of two roles: the heavily accented comic relief, or the hyper aggressive, yet comic book hero of martial arts films. And in spite of the slight improvements on the formula, such as the character Harold from the Harold and Kumar films, we will still see them portrayed as different. Take a look at the Twilight films, which all feature two of Bella’s Asian friends, and the male one is sporting a haircut that is stylish, but totally feminine by general standards.
The modeling world has had a few that have managed to make names for themselves within the fashion industry, but the percentage is practically nonexistent when compared to the representation of other ethnic groups. Society seems to be comfortable with this blatant brand of emasculation, but there are a few Asian men who have made a point of proving that they have everything that the next guy has to offer. And more, in some cases.
Guy Tang, Peter Le, Jeffierce and Eric Rensburg are just four examples of Asian male beauty at its best. Handsome, muscled and masculine, these guys are at the forefront of helping to change the tired and outdated view of what an Asian male looks like. And then there is Jeremy Tang.
In Hollywood, there is a phrase known as “the IT factor” which refers to a person who has that indefinable something that makes up what we call star quality. Jeremy has this in mass quantity, which is evident by the numerous A list photographers who have placed him in front of their cameras. This impressive list includes Ed Freeman, Alberto Bruni, Hanz Fahmeyer, Jim Oblak, Sandro Bross, Nolan Dean, Toni Pham, Ziv, Matteo Trisolini, Jeff Slate, and quite a few others who clearly see what the masses have been missing.
BLISS sees it as well, and this special addition is devoted to the beauty of Jeremy Tang.