Chris Teel refers to himself as an up and coming photographer, which only serves to illustrate his humility. The truth is that the name Chris Teel is well known by many male models who want to add his unique style and edge to their portfolios. His work ranges from standard portraiture to nudes, both artistic and erotic, and his model choices include the well known like Eric Rensburg to complete novices. They also cross ethnic and racial lines while some other photographers make a name for themselves specializing with a single group. It is that level of diversity that caught my attention in 2009 and has held my admiration to this day. It is also why I wanted to start off the first issue of 2012 with an interview and feature of his beautiful images, and why he graces the first cover.
BLISS: I have to start by saying that I am a HUGE fan of your work and have been for quite some time. When did you first start taking photos?
CHRIS TEEL: I appreciate the sentiment Sean, the feedback that I get from the people who follow my work certainly motivates me and confirms that I made the right decision when I left the corporate world 3 years ago to pursue photography on a somewhat full-time basis.
B: Were you influenced by any particular artists?
CT: I would say I'm influenced by a number of artists from different fields. I love Montreal painter Yvon Goulet's masculine esthetic and I'm a big fan of NYC designer Scooter Laforge right now. In fact, I'm hoping to incorporate some of his work into one of my shoots in the very near future! Its a provocative piece, I just have to find the right model. In terms of photography, I respect what James Bidgood was able to accomplish with glue guns, sheers and papier mache in his tiny apartment. Such creativity! I enjoy shooting different concepts, challenging myself to do something new with almost every shoot and I think is partly influenced by the fact I see inspiration almost everywhere I look.
B: What were your early days like as a photographer? What types of images did you shoot?
CT: It was certainly more challenging finding models 3 years ago that's for sure! It took a while to build a strong portfolio and to build my reputation as a professional who wasn't in the business as an excuse to see naked men. Out of 20 inquiries I made back then, I'd get maybe one positive response. My hit rate is a lot better now! As I do today, I shot a mix of fashion, physique and artistic nudes right from the beginning.
B: Have you always focused mainly on male models?
CT: My personal philosophy has always been to shoot what appeals to and inspires me so, yes, I have to this point worked almost exclusively with male models. However, as I broaden my portfolio with a particular focus on fashion photography I expect I will be working with more female models. I have my eyes on the girlfriend of one of my newest models - she's a stunner and I'm quite interested to seeing what we can capture. Keep your eyes open - that's all I'm saying for now.
B: Where do you find most of your models?
CT: Right now I'd say most of my models find me through my website, or through various social media. More and more are referred to me by guys I've worked with. Modelmayhem has been a great resource and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in getting into photography or modelling. Its a great way of networking and connecting with talented individuals on either side of the lens.
B: When choosing a model to work with, what physical attributes do you look for first?
CT: Obviously I'm looking for guys with nice faces and good physiques - that's a basic requirement. More importantly though, I'm looking for guys who can convey an emotion of some kind. I've shot a few 'blank slates' and can say I much prefer shooting models with bold personalities that project through the image. Whether its a sense of confidence, an expression of fear, or a explosion of aggression, I'm more interested in the overall story an image conveys, than in any specific body parts.
B: You managed to make each of your models look sexy, and you shoot them in a way that makes it look effortless. What defines sexy to you?
CT: In the short time I've been shooting I've realized that confidence is much more of a turn-on than bulging pecs and washboard abs. Younger models are much more focussed on the specifics of their physiques, with the need to be perfect. Though some have come very close, perfection doesn't exist and I find that guys who realize that tend to be more comfortable with who they are and you really see that in the shots.
B: Being naked can be a vulnerable emotion, even for models who frequently pose nude. How do you make your models comfortable during a shoot?
CT: For me it comes down to two things - clear communication and lots of eye contact! Every single model I've shot knew what I was looking for before ever stepping in front of my camera. Its important to know where each individual draws his personal boundaries in terms of nudity to avoid those awkward moments during the shoot. I encourage my models to ask questions upfront and I give them the space they need when it comes time to disrobe. I shoot nudes the same way I shoot clothed shots, I don't make a big deal about it. I think that by treating it as matter-of-fact, most guys get over that awkward stage just a few minutes into the shoot and many actually enjoy the experience. I also follow the 'Hey buddy, eyes up here' philosophy!
B: Sometimes a model decides he likes a particular photographer and decides to do a nude shoot, then later ends up regretting the decision for whatever reason. Have any of your model’s ever experienced nude remorse over images they have done with you?
CT: Not that anyone has ever mentioned to me. I'm very clear that a model should not shoot what he doesn't want all over the internet as you can never get that back. I have had a few models who've expressed a willingness to shoot more explicit nudes than they had originally communicated and, in those cases, I've checked and double-checked to ensure they knew what they were doing so that they weren't putting themselves in a position they'd later regret.
B: I feel like the term “erotic” is perception based and consider most of your nude work to have erotic elements. Do you consider your work to be erotic or just nude male art?
CT: There is a strong erotic element to what I shoot, absolutely. I have shot figure studies but personally find those types of shots to be somewhat sterile and certainly not memorable.
B: Obviously, the erotic genre can veer into more explicit territory, including erections or non simulated sexual acts. Have you ever had an interest in or photographed more explicit style imagery?
CT: Take a look through my portfolio and you tell me! :P
B: When do you feel erotica crosses over into pornographic territory, or do you even think there is a distinction?
CT: I feel the line before erotica and porn is somewhat arbitrary and obviously the boundaries change depending on who you talk to. For me, the difference between the two is that one, perhaps, leaves a little more to the imagination than the other. I think intent is quite important. I put a lot of thought into the concepts I shoot and work with a number of models who are willing to approach that line without jumping right over it. Having said that I accept that some people will see my work as pornographic as a result of their circumstances. These are the same people who view Sears underwear ads as pornographic.
B: You have worked with a few models that I adore like Eric Rensburg, GIO and Mardi Reid. All three of these guys have a built in fan base and numerous admirers. What was it like working with each of them and why do you think they appeal to so many people?
CT: Clearly all three are great looking models with phenomenal physiques and each brings a high-level of energy to their shoots. Key for me though is that each of these guys delivers in terms of character and personality. Clearly none of them are introverts! Though they are all very different people, they love what they do and I think people see that in their images. As a photographer I appreciate their fearlessness. Its not every model who'd wear bunny ears, while simulateously holding an Easter basket and sucking a carrot!
B: Your catalog is pretty extensive with a large variety of models. Have any of them ever become an artistic muse that you’ve photographed repeatedly?
CT: There are a number of models I've shot repeatedly - Sam Boux, Zack Fraser, Shariq, Tristan Harris and Mardi Reid to name a few. Corey Kirk and I shot about 10 times in a 6-month period and I would describe him as a muse. He manages his modelling career as a business and has very specific ideas as to what he wants to accomplish. He's the kind of guy who'll call you up with an idea and we'd shoot it that night. He's gorgeous, of course, and knows what he wants. We've taken a break from shooting as we're each moving in different directions but I'm always open to shooting him in the future. I consider him to be the little brother I never had.
B: People are fascinated by the penis, even if they don’t want to admit it, and the genre of male imagery is filled with certain models that have been quite blessed in the lower region, which creates an increase in their popularity. R Luis is one example and has probably been on every male image photographer’s wish list at one point or another. The newest entry in this category is Jonathan Luke who you did a beautiful series of photos with. What was he like to work with?
CT: I saw the results of some of Jonathan's early work and I knew we had the raw material to create some amazing shots - which we certainly did! His philosophy is that the nude body is nothing to be ashamed of and I believe he'd be naked 100% of the time, if he could be. He's aware of his unique gifts and he has specific ideas as to how he wants to be represented. Since some of our shots have gone public, Jon's been approached by a number of international photographers and I truly believe we'll see a lot more of him for some time to come.
B: You’ve also worked with one of my favorite new faces, Alex Janjanin, and your nude images were some of his best work. What was that experience like?
CT: Again, another model who's very confident with nudity which is somewhat surprising considering Alex was only 19 at the time we shot. We shot at Hanlan Point, the nude beach in Toronto and he definitely attracted some admiring glances. Alex and I were planning a second shoot but he ended up moving to L.A. He took a break from modelling but I understand he's considering getting back into it. I'm hoping our paths will cross again at some point.
B: You may not realize it but you are on the wish list for quite a few models, in addition to being a huge inspiration for other photographers. Are you, at all, aware of the impact your work has?
CT: To be honest, that does surprise me somewhat. I feel I'm still learning and developing my own style. There are many photographers I admire, and to hear that I inspire other is flattering for sure, but the idea is still a bit foreign to me. I am my own worst critic, I see my work from 3 years ago, two years ago and ask myself "What was I thinking?" Ask me again in 20 years and we'll see what I think then - LOL.
B: What about influences for you? Which photographers, past and present, do you admire, and what stands out about their work for you?
CT: I take my influences from a number of photographers with different backgrounds and varying styles. As a small town teenager, I was definitely drawn to Bruce Weber's work, connecting to the homoerotic nature of the images before I completely understood the feelings I had at the time. A few years later I discovered Jim French's work with Colt Studios. By then I had clearly figured out the feelings I'd had. :) My present day influences include photographers like Dylan Rosser, Rick Day and David Vance - each celebrates man as a sensual and sexual being. I respect how Joe Oppedisano and Justin Monroe each push the creative envelope, challenging their audiences to the 'porn versus eroticism' discussion. I find that, in general, Montreal photographers have a great eye and I respect the way they capture sensuality in such an artistically different way. Check out Mikel Marton and David Fallu's work to see what I mean.
B: How would you describe your particular style of photography?
CT: I hesitate to put labels to what I do as I don't want to be limited to shooting a specific style of photography. I recognize that many of my images are perceived as erotic but I also shoot lifestyle images - though they may not get the same exposure. I can describe what my work is NOT. Though I utilize post-production tools like most other photographers, I don't manufacture images that didn't exist in front of my camera. I'm not going to cut and paste a model's image dropping him in front of fantasy backdrop complete with fire-breathing dragons. I understand there's a market for that, but my focus is primarily on capturing real connections between the model and the camera.
B: We all have our own perceptions about the images we shoot. What do you consider your strengths?
CT: I connect well with most of my models and I'm able to use that to capture their personality in the images I produce. Going back to your earlier question that might be one of the reasons models do agree to work with me.
B: What would you like to see improve most in terms of your photography?
CT: I could always improve upon some of the technical aspects. Some of my favorite shots are ones taken with natural light - I'm continually working to develop my studio lighting techniques. I am a million miles ahead of where I was when I started though - I couldn't show you the first few shoots I did. Horrifying!
B: Certain photographers like working with new models because the effort they put into a shoot combined with their excitement can produce some excellent results that don’t fall into a “seen that pose before” box. Other photographers prefer seasoned models because they usually do not require much direction. Do you have a preference?
CT: Experienced models are great in that you can get a number of quality shots in a limited amount of time and they're usually more comfortable shooting nudes. However, I really do like working with the newer models. It can be an awesome experience directing them through their first shoot, watching them develop in terms of posing and seeing their response to the final images. They usually see themselves in a way they hadn't seem themselves before and that's extremely gratifying for me.
B: It seems like entertainment is centered around some level of drama these days and people always want a piece of the “inside scoop” or gossip. Without naming names (unless you want to, of course), have any of your shoots stood out as being a horrible experience, and if so, what made it so bad?
CT: I've lost count of all the shoots I've done and I'm fortunate that the vast majority have been positive experiences. There were only three shoots that really didn't turn out and in all 3 cases it came down basically to attitude and communication issues. One model I shot this past summer pushed back on a lot of the direction I was giving him during the shoot. I had asked him to step outside of his regular facial expressions and he refused, stating that he'd "look stupid". Essentially, he couldn't let go of his need to control his image and we clashed to the point that I called off the shoot as neither of us was getting the images we wanted. I see each of these shoots as a learning experience and they just reinforced the importance of clear, upfront communication.
B: On a more positive note, do any of your shoots stand out as being one of your best or most memorable experiences? If so, which one was it and why?
CT: Some of my favorite shoots are ones I've done with couples - usually real-life couples. The chemistry is unmistakeable and burns through the lens. Direction is usually kept to a minimum in these types of shoots, I just let them do what feels natural and right for them.
B: You’ve worked with so many people, but there are tons of aspiring male models, along with the experienced ones, on the landscape now. Are there any that you really want to work with?
CT: Right now I'm planning my next trip to Montreal for New Year's and, of course, I'll have to do a number of shoots while I'm there. I'm talking to new and experienced models, some I've worked with before and many I haven't. I haven't scheduled all of them yet but I promise that they will be some of the best I've worked with so far!
Your readers are probably familiar with a lot of guys on my wish list - these models come immediately to mind: Todd Sanfield, Brock Chapman, Joseph Sayers, Chase Hostler, Nuno Branco, Phil Fusco, DW Chase, Sam Devries.... I could go on and on. There are a lot of great guys out there!
B: What advice would you give to a male model just starting out?
CT: Identify what it is that you want to do and develop a plan to do it. If you're going to be an underwear model, make sure you develop that 6-pack. Treat modeling like a business, you are the product. Dream but be realistic as well - its hard work and not for the faint of heart. Most models don't make a full-time living doing this but many leverage modeling to get ahead in other fields like acting, singing, nutrition/fitness and personal training, etc. Network and ask lots of questions of other models and photographers!
B: What if a model wants to work with you…what is the best way to get in contact with you?
CT: The easiest way is to contact me through my website at christeel.ca
B: What would you consider to be the biggest mistake a potential new model can make in terms of getting into the industry?
CT: Many new models will pose for almost any photographer, to get shots for their portfolio. I find that some models are not that selective and they end up with images that really aren't useable. Either do your research and find talented photographers who are also building their portfolios or save up your money and spend it on an established photographer who can get you the shots you need. Its an investment you need to make upfront if you're serious about getting work in the industry. Its an investment that also doesn't necessarily need to cost you an arm and a leg!
B: You actually live in Canada, though some people are under the impression that you are an American photographer. Do you do most of your shoots there? Do you ever come to the states to work with models?
CT: I moved to Toronto, from Western Canada, when I knew I was going to pursue photography full-time. I work with a lot of local models as well as international models who travel here for business, or pleasure. I get to Montreal several times a year and try to get to NYC once or twice a year. I've had success shooting in Chicago as well. Within the next year or so I hope to get to London, San Francisco, and Miami!
B: Do you find there to be any differences in the models where you live as opposed to those in the United States?
CT: There are cultural, geographical and market-driven differences that I've noticed. Toronto is very much a city where commercial models, and actors, thrive. As a result Toronto models tend to be a bit more conversative in the types of shoots they do and in how they portray themselves. Montreal is a cultured, artistically rich city and the models there tend to gravitate towards more conceptual shoots where being 'pretty' is not the primary objective. Though Toronto is culturally diverse, it pales in comparison to NYC. As an international destination for beautiful men around the world, New York holds something for everyone and I'd shoot there every day if I could!
B: If you could do a location shoot anywhere in the world, with any model you wanted where and who would it be?
CT: I'd love to spend a long weekend shooting 5 or 6 of my favorite models at a cabin in Northern Ontario. Very natural nude shots of guys just being guys interacting with nature. I could do a book!
B: What are 5 things that you value most in your life?
CT: I've been fortunate to have had the support of my friends and family as I've made the choice to leave the corporate world to get into photography. Along with that I've had the unconditional love of my baby, Chanel. In addition, I've been gifted with great health and a full head of hair. And my camera!
B: What is the best lesson you’ve learned in life so far?
CT: Don't sweat the small stuff!
B: What projects can we look forward to from you in 2012, and when is the Chris Teel book finally going to happen?
CT: With winter coming fast and furious I thought the number of shoots I'd be doing would decline for a few months. The opposite seems to be happening and I'm booking shoots well into the new year at this point. I've recently pulled together a creative team that is going to help me produce a number of projects in 2012 and a book is high on the list of to do's. January's going to start off strong and I see 2012 as being the strongest year of my career thus far. That's all I can say for now :)
B: Any last words for your fans?
CT: Thank you for all of your words of encouragement, moral support, blogs and reblogs!
©2012 – Sean Dibble