In July 2009, I started BLISS based on a simple idea, which was to celebrate the artists, models and performers that caught my attention. I love photography, especially male image work since that is the area that my own art is focused. There are so many great sites online that showcase the beauty of the male form like Beautiful Mag, Ooh La La Mag, AOM, Favorite Hunks, Men and Photographers, ModelJock and Paragon Men, to name a few, and each of these sites does a phenomenal job. I have even had the privilege of being featured on all of them except ModelJock, which is run by one of my favorite photographers, Mark Edwards. But as much as I love each of these wonderful sites, I wanted something just a little bit different.
It is easy to just appreciate the photos either for the technique, the creativity or the gorgeous men, but as an artist, I was also interested in the people behind the images and the process that went into taking these photos from the conceptual stage to the final product. I wanted the opportunity to get to know these people who inspire me with their talent and beauty and to express my own appreciation. I also figured that if I was interested in more than just the visual, others might be as well, so BLISS was created and debuted with a model named J Phoenix whose beauty has captivated me for some time.
The real beauty of BLISS, for me, is that it allowed me to forge contacts and build relationships with a community of people whose work is such a huge part of my daily existence. I met, and later photographed the one and only Eric Rensburg after featuring him in the magazine. I got to know Desi Arnaz of Zedneram, as well as Ron Reyes who turned the tables and interviewed me for a feature. Industry legend, Greg Weiner was featured along with some personal favorites like Joseph Smileuske, Jay Plogman, Steven D. Hill, Guy Tang and Vic Rocco.
This magazine is a labor of love and great deal of work goes into creating the interviews and features. It is continuously evolving, and hopefully improving. 2011 was a big year and featured more models and photographers than I have in the prior years. I made a conscious decision to include all types, not just what is typically seen on a site like this, because I love diversity. Since the New Year marks a time of change for many people, the first artist featured, Photofreedom is known for the freshness of his images. The photos are generally devoid of any help from Photoshop, presenting the models au natural. This so called lack of polish was raw, intimate and eye catching.
January would be most remembered for the next feature of model Landon Taylor, who offered the most erotic images of the year. His boy next door looks were a stunning contrast to the sexual inhibition on display, which was good enough to tide readers over through February, since the new issue would not arrive until March.
The big news in the month of March was the announcement that model and porn star, Turk Mason was retiring his porn alter ego and continuing his career as himself, Frank Fanucchi. While the initial reception was great, it took a little while for people to discover BLISS. The turning point came when I did a special fan mag edition for Turk, who has been photographed by many of the luminaries, such as Justin Monroe and Dylan Rosser. It was one of my favorite features because a great deal of communication went into making it happen, and it was the biggest feature I had attempted up to that point and remains so even now. His feature was such a huge boost for the magazine that I was beyond thrilled when he decided to officially break the news of his retirement in BLISS with an exclusive interview. I always found him to be very candid, but he opened up even further about his experiences within the industry and his life, so the title “The Importance of Being Frank” held a double meaning.
As an artist, it can feel like walking a tightrope when it comes to the lasting impression you want people to have you and your work. There will always be certain images that your audience gravitates towards and when they are of an erotic nature you can be unfairly pigeonholed in the minds of the viewers that these are the main focus of your work. It is a fact that I have had to deal with regarding my own photos, but even I found myself in need of a lesson when it came to the work of XCESSSTUDIO. I was drawn to his more provocative work, but this is by no means all he wants to be known for, and he made that point perfectly clear during his interview. I am a fan of all of his work but I realized that I was zeroing in on just one aspect of his incredible talent. I learned a great deal about my own perception during that interview.
March closed out with a model whose face is familiar on the internet even if his name is not. Oocelot has been featured in a plethora of blogs, and portions of his interview are often included. He is another uninhibited soul with that something special that appeals to nude photographers, like Mark Henderson and his appeal continued to draw readers throughout the remainder of 2011.
I discovered the art of Javi Giovanni by chance on Model Mayhem, under his brand name Ultra Exposed when I did a Christmas feature in 2010 with Cuban model, Ralfy Lords. What makes Ralfy unique in the modeling game is that he stands a mere 5’1” tall, and that he poses nude. The first images I saw were from Ultra Exposed so I decided to familiarize myself with more of Javi Giovanni’s work. I discovered that Ralfy was not the only short model that he photographed, and that he appeared to lean towards Latinos. The overall feel had a distinct Miami flavor, and his use of props, most specifically candy or paint, added the perfect hints of color. He also incorporated classic technique, even in his erotic work with fantastic results, so he was my first choice to start out the month of June.
I have been asked why I do not feature more of my own work in BLISS and the answer is that my main focus has and always will be the work of others. This was not a self indulgent venture meant for self promotion and even though I would love to show more of myself, I try to stay in line with the original vision. A few times a year, my photographs will crop up as they did in a feature on Lawrence Boudweau, who used to be a commercial model in New York. A man with the looks, the physique, the brains and talent, Larry is an amazing singer with a Masters degree in music. He is also one of my all time favorite models to work with due to his easy going personality and humor.
August began with a feature of photographer Jay Rickard whose use of light and shadow fascinates me in that they are the focal points of his images just as much as the models are. One of the main facets of an artists’ port that attracts me is model choice and when I find those that do not merely shoot the standard definitions of beauty within the guidelines of modeling, I get hooked. I often ask the photographers what they look for when choosing models and I remember Jay saying that faces were important to him, but not in terms of beauty - they needed to have character. I confess that it was one of the best answers I had ever gotten to that question.
Anyone who is familiar with male imagery is probably just as familiar with the name Rick Day, whose images of beautiful male models is legendary within an industry filled with talented shooters. Rick is so well known and sought after that his latest book, Players Two had a huge launch party in New York City that was attended by celebrated models and photographers alike. Bruno Gmunder, who published the book, used an image Rick shot of my number one model, Luis Perrusquia in the promotional campaign, and almost every male model I’ve interviewed mentions Rick Day as one of the photographers they would most like to work with.
It was a series of images that Rick shot of model Matthew Kirk that led me to contact him about being featured in BLISS. Matthew is another visual contradiction in that he can effortlessly go from Boy Next Door, to Fashion Model, to Sensual and Erotic Nude Model without being typecast in a particular genre. In the entertainment industry, he would be referred to as a triple threat because he is also a trained dancer, singer and actor with a degree in musical theater to back up his beauty. He has done some rather provocative nudes with Rick Day, but his feature was somewhat of a tease for the readers. A few of his nudes were included, but the erotic ones by Rick were not because he wanted people to focus on his body of work and not just an aspect of his body. With a little diligence, you can find those images online and I can assure you it would be worth the effort.
September marked another turning point for BLISS. Loyal readers will be aware that the cover would change with each feature because I felt that each of these people deserved the spotlight. I was unaware until this point that the magazine was moving up in terms of cache, or that GayDemon had reviewed it three times favorably. It wasn’t until I read an interview with a model on another site who said that two of the sites he most wanted to be featured on were Beautiful Mag and BLISS because they showed the highest respect to the subjects. It was extremely flattering, especially since this venture is not even close to being in the league with a powerhouse like Beautiful Mag, but it did change the way I thought about how and what I was presenting. The first change would be just one cover per issue, and the second would be branding the images to the magazine as a reference point. Now the hard part would be deciding who actually gets the cover.
There is a list I have of models that I am completely head over heels about and one of them was still relatively new to the industry, but I had no doubt about wanting him for the cover of the September issue. The tagline was HEAT and the model was David Davila, who I will talk about later. First up, however, is a young man named Drew Chapman who is the older brother of another star model of mine, Brock Chapman. When Ron Reyes turned the tables on me in 2010 with an interview and feature of my own work, Brock was the star of that issue. He would later work with Thomas Synnamon and Karl Simone but he was the face and physique most associated with my brand. His brother, Drew, is taller and built more like the football player that Brock actually is, but his personality is far less outgoing, nor is he as comfortable displaying his body, so he has not shot nude images. Drew was featured on my Facebook fan page and the response to him was so intense that I decided to give him more exposure in BLISS. As I said, I only feature my own work a few times a year so it was a bit tough to decide who would get my second feature. In the end, I chose Drew.
There are certain models that you can’t help but notice simply because of their physical blessings, like Trevor Adams or Simon Dexter, but I often find that I am drawn to individuals because they are the total opposite of what the standard of beauty might imply. I like when models have a different look, which I find beautiful on a personal level, and one of those that grabbed my attention was a young man named Joseph Alexander. Once again, it was a double reward as in the case of Ralfy Lords, because the images I saw were by a photographer in Atlanta named Louis whose brand name is TAKEURPICTURE. It is unfortunate that in this day and age there are still photographers who do not shoot ethnic models, but Louis is one of those who have filled a part of the void by focusing on them, almost exclusively. Joseph Alexander turned out to one of those models and in his case, slipping into various characters is what motivates him in front of the camera. Of course, part of what motivates the viewer is his comfort level when it comes to shedding his clothes, as well as the hefty endowment on display.
The real star of September, however, was the aforementioned, David Davila. This beautiful man is a muscular Latino who resides in Chicago and not since J Phoenix, Turk Mason/Frank Fanucchi, GIONYC and Eric Rensburg have I been so unabashedly smitten with a model that I was featuring. (I would have this feeling again later with Gio De Marco and Victor Po.) When I feature models I try not to lean towards my personal preference in looks beyond the camera, but David is 100% my type when it comes to height and looks. I have never been into the muscular physique outside of my art but his entire package is irresistible. In fact, I could gush about David until I was blue in the face and you would not be able to stand reading anymore so I will concentrate on what made the feature so special.
What I found most enjoyable about interviewing David was discovering genuine humility that went past the initial feature. He is on my personal wish list of models to work with, not only because of his looks but because he keeps in contact and is supportive and encouraging when it comes to the art of others. One of the questions I always ask is to list 5 things that even people who know you would be surprised to learn and I do so in hopes that the answers will make the reader consider that same question in regards to their own lives. I think it’s fascinating to think about how much or how little the people around us truly know our private lives. David’s answer was priceless when he said his favorite movie was The Little Mermaid.
One of the biggest pluses of his feature was the inclusion of photos by amazing photographers like Allan Spiers, Pat Lee, Jay Plogman (who had a cover feature in December 2009), and KJ Heath who shot the cover of David and introduced me to Jeff Rieber who would be featured in the Holiday issue at the end of the year. I guess I am not the only one to recognize the beauty of David because he still remains in the top 5 posts of the month as the New Year begins.
I wanted to do more issues devoted to specific individuals like I had done with Turk Mason, and the next two to receive that distinction were model GIONYC and photographer Joseph Smileuske. This would be followed by a man in a class of his own, Desi Arnaz of Zedneram, and then the incomparable Justin Monroe, who even got a mini fairy tale written in his honor for that issue. 2011 could have been a year with nothing but issues devoted to individuals but I thought that might get tiresome for the readers so I chose carefully. First up was another photographer who is on the minds of many male models as someone they would love to shoot with, Ev Dylan.
You can’t mention Ev Dylan without mentioning model DW Chase (and vice versa) so they shared the spotlight on this particular issue. DW is a model that pretty much defies all conventional thought on what a model should look like, and this has worked to his advantage. Everything about him goes against the grain including his celibacy, in spite of some of his sexually charged images, his California surfer dude looks, his height and his decision to retain his body hair at a time when almost all models were completely shaved. DW is also more of an intellect who shuns crowds and leans towards introspection. I loved working with him because he was hands on during the process, which is always helpful, and I was given the chance to debut his final shoot with Ev after working together for well over a decade.
Ev, on the other hand, was far more difficult to pin down. This man is BUSY, constantly traveling and shooting so finding time to do a 3 part interview created some complications. In fact, that issue is still not complete due to Ev’s schedule so stay tuned for part 2 and 3, as well as a review of his gorgeous book LUST.
One day when I was updating my port on Model Mayhem and looking at the work of photographers I admire, I came across of photo of a man standing naked in front of a large mirror. I could not explain why this image stood out for me specifically, but the playful aspect of it left an impression. A year later I saw what would land on my list of favorite male images featuring a guy hanging off the side of a train by Kurt R. Brown. It would take a bit more time to realize that these two images were of the same model because he had changed his profile name. He would change it once again and the official unveiling, so to speak, would happen during his feature in BLISS. The model is Gio De Marco.
Now Gio is another one of those models that I have no qualms about admitting I have a special affinity for. I love everything about this guy, from his look to the way he brings out something special in his images. He is a good friend of Desi Arnaz which has made him a staple in the ZEDNERAM world, and our communication on Facebook revealed that he is just as endearing when he is not modeling. In some cases, you work with a model and the chemistry goes beyond the art and you develop a friendship. Gio is exactly the type of model that you would hope that could happen with.
The next feature on Immortal Images was long overdue. We had been in communication for most of the year discussing our mutual admiration for each other’s work and I expressed interest in including him in BLISS. Needless to say, it was a hectic year for me and the target date kept getting pushed further and further away. This man is more than just a talented artist with a style all his own, he is also incredibly supportive of all artists and gives heartfelt feedback that is positive and inspiring. He shoots real people, as I call them, and maintains an aesthetic that is both raw and artsy, making his models appear like people you might know. It is this level of intimacy that makes his work so special, in my eyes.
I wanted to do an entire issue with photographer David Wagner whom I have deep admiration for as an artist, but the models became roadblocks. The internet is a wonderful thing but its vastness and the ability to manipulate images has created what David refers to as “nude remorse” for some models who pose and then later regret that decision when the photos end up posted all over the web, sometimes with digital adjustments. There are also models who do not want to be featured on blogs, in spite of the level of positive exposure some can provide, preferring only to have their images published in print format. There is nothing wrong with any of these decisions, and everyone should have the right to maintain some control over their work, but it made it impossible to showcase some of the most memorable shots that David has produced in the issue. To see those, I strongly suggest visiting David’s Model Mayhem page or website.
I have referenced David in some of the interviews I have been featured in such as Paragon Men, Beautiful Mag and NEXT and I call him “the one to watch” because his style is instantly recognizable and his output consistent. He has a portfolio filled with beautiful models and is a photographer of choice for quite a few book covers. His feature also marked a rather quick return of model DW Chase in a pictorial shot by David.
And so the end of the year arrived, much sooner than I would have liked, and I was preparing the Holiday issue. I had known since early summer who I most wanted to grace the cover because I have been a huge fan of his work since the first day I joined Model Mayhem and saw one of his images. In my opinion, there are very few people like Victor Po and I have watched in pure admiration as he has transformed himself throughout his modeling career. It was no surprise to me when he hooked up with Justin Monroe and even less of a surprise that he would become one of Justin’s true superstars. His feature, that came with a fold out cover, included a large number of shots by Justin (who is the most featured photographer on BLISS), as well as those by super photographer Mark Henderson, GR Pro Photo, Travis Dudley, JNAWSH, Michael Kilgore, and the phenomenally talented Murray Grondin. It was a star studded extravaganza that was perfect for the holiday. A gift to me and the readers.
Victor is a man’s man who exudes masculinity, sensuality and pure erotic heat, but can turn down the temperature and play the Latino pretty boy or high fashion underwear model as easily as flicking a switch. He has always been on my list of models that blow me away with their work and I can only guess at how much further he is going to go in 2012. No matter what he does, I will definitely be watching and loving every minute of it.
The problem with having Victor centered on which models I could feature along with him and not have them overshadowed. I have to thank KJ Heath for providing the first answer when he suggested Jeff Rieber, and model/dancer in Chicago. Jeff is more of a classic beauty when put alongside Victor, but his dancer’s physique and willingness to also pose nude was hot enough to interest the viewers. He is entirely new to the modeling scene but has since been chosen as a finalist on the model search 2012 at Favorite Hunks.
The other choice was a beautiful Asian model named Jay Jam who also fits into the fitness category. I was aware of some of his work with ZEDNERAM but nothing more until we started working on his feature. Jay was a huge success, even managing to topple the mighty Peter Le in views for the week.
There’s nothing like a few surprises when it comes to gifting and since it was the holiday season, I wanted to include two for the readers and they came from two of my favorite photographers, FLYFOTO and Ron Reyes, who provided some naughty but beautiful holiday themed images to make the yuletide gay. The last gift came from me with a nude Santa shot of the one and only Eric Rensburg. And since the holiday issue was heading towards taking me off Saint Nick’s nice list, I included the erotic Santa images by none other than Gert Kist, which might have given new meaning to the phrase “white Christmas” for some viewers.
So that was the year in BLISS. 2012 is already looking to be just as, if not hotter, starting off with Chris Teel and (spoiler alert) next months issue featuring Haringman+ and a sexy valentine spread by a surprise photographer. I hope you enjoyed what 2011 had to offer and will continue to enjoy and support the magazine. Here’s wishing nothing but the best to all my readers in 2012.
©2012 – Sean Dibble