Tuesday, January 17, 2012

LENU - MODERN DAY CLASSIC

There is a certain appeal that comes from viewing male images from the past, such as Athletic Model Guild, James Bidgood and even Old Reliable. Much of that appeal comes from the styling and the way in which light is used, which is very different from what you see in today’s digital images. There is a raw quality that adds a sense of realness, which might be viewed as surreal or retro in today’s photo market, but there are artists that are still reinterpreting it today.

The work of LENU does not feel like an interpretation. It is closer to homage, but it also feels as if the artist himself is actually from that era and that we are viewing past gallery images. His use of color, the composition, the models, the posing are intriguing because they represent a style that many of us are familiar with but do not get to see that often anymore. There are websites dedicated solely to male nudes of the past, and any of LENU’s pieces would fit well, but these are strictly men of today and it is a testament to his craft that he can create this art and have the viewers wonder about the origin.





I had the opportunity to interview LENU, a New Orleans native who now resides in Las Vegas,  about his photography, as well as his various brands like clubLENU.com and HUNKFEST. I discovered that his passion extends beyond the camera and into the socially conscious arena with his stance against domestic abuse. He shared his thoughts, his ideas and his art in this exclusive feature.

BLISS: Where did the name LENU come from?

LENU:  My infatuation with the beauty of the male nude was well known by the time I finished my fine art studies in Europe and the United States.  I was given the byname, LENU, by my best friend and late partner, Jacques Bredat.  He thought that LENU was the perfect byname for an artist that uses the male nude as a medium for artistic expression. LENU comes from the French phrase, Le Nu dans L’Art (The Nude in Art).

B: You are a native of New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities. What was it like to grow up there?

LENU:  Growing up in New Orleans was both fascinating and adventurous.  Even at a very young age, I remember being attracted to the provocative and rather risqué nature of the culture of our city.  Especially, during Mardi Gras.  Men and women were proud of their bodies and weren’t embarrassed to expose themselves in very public places.  And children weren’t shielded from provocative adult activities (that weren’t sexual in nature, of course).          

B: The city has a reputation for decadence. How has the atmosphere of New Orleans influenced your work?

LENU:  In hindsight, I suspect that I’ve always questioned public nudity as being lewd or immoral.  Though, there were laws against public nudity in New Orleans.  During Mardi Gras, most ignored them and boldly displayed as much of their bodies as the law would allow and beyond, in some cases.  Instead of feeling embarrassed for them, I applauded their courage and self-confidence.  I am sure that this was the beginning of my recognizing the nude form as beauty and my fascination with instilling the courage and self-confidence that so impressed me as a child into my work and my male subjects.     

B: You currently reside in another infamous city, Las Vegas, where gambling and prostitution are legal. What prompted you to move there?

LENU:  Well, it definitely was not the gambling or the prostitution.  And, prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas, but most think it is.  Upon leaving school in England, I became the protégé of French interior designers, Claude LeCourt and Jacques Bredat.  The company excelled and relocated to Southern California.  Over the years to follow, I would become a full partner in LeCourt et Bredat Interiors.  For many years, photography has only been a very satisfying and lucrative hobby.  As a freelance creative director, I designed, GQ-LIVE, the highly successful promotional campaign for Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine.  However, I was fired for creating a segment that featured male images that were “too erotic” for the mainstream publication. 

The Los Angeles male modeling agency, Male Image, hired me to develop their client’s portfolios.  My stylish images of desperately beautiful men have appeared on countless portfolio pages.  I have photographed several covers, centerfolds and nude layouts for Playgirl, allure, The Advocate and Advocate Men and a host of gay magazines, as well as, several international hunk calendars and greeting card collections.  However,  my main profession has always been interior design.  When my partner died, a dear friend and colleague asked me to collaborate on a design project for an executive of Caesars Palace.  After completing the project, I relocated and continue to reside in Las Vegas.   

B: How does living in Vegas differ from New Orleans, and what most appeals to you about living there?

LENU:  Well, both cities have very wild reputations as party towns.  But, when you’re a resident of either city, life is pretty normal.  The only difference is when you have the urge to do something special, there’s no limit to the variety of activities available to you.  What appeals to me most about living in Las Vegas is the city’s receptivity to innovative and creative ideas.  And, of course, the city’s liberal attitude toward nudity.  However, female nudity is far more acceptable than male nudity.  Gentlemen’s strip clubs are very successful, while clubs featuring nude men have failed time and time again.






B: You state, clearly, that you have an “infatuation with the nude male form as art”. What is (it) that appeals to you?

LENU:  In my opinion, the male nude is the epitome of creation!  Nude men are like snowflakes, unique and exquisitely beautiful in their own way.  And, I think, from a very young age, that I have been very much infatuated with the taboos of society regarding the beauty of men.  I noticed that when a woman was beautiful, nobody hesitated in letting her know how beautiful and sensual she was.  Beautiful men were treated differently.  This contradiction, is what fascinated me.  Some men are just as beautiful and sensual as some women.  I am infatuated with showing this in my artwork!           

B: The male nude does not seem to get the respect it deserves in art, in spite of the various interpretations throughout history, including the Statue of David. Why do you think there is such a stigma attached to the nude male body?

LENU:  SOCIETAL CONDITIONING!  “Real men should never expose their bodies!”  If you are not gay and out, you should never show that you appreciate the beauty of the nude male in art or otherwise.  And, I feel that many mainstream art galleries, magazines, etc., appreciate the beauty of the male nude form, but are afraid of the stigma attached to acknowledging the beauty of a nude man.    When I started photographing nude men, most of my models were straight men.   So, I marketed my work to mainstream art galleries, publications and through press releases, to no avail.  So, I placed advertisements in mainstream publications with photos!  I received death threats!

B: Magazines like Playboy and Penthouse celebrated the female pin-up and are viewed somewhat respectfully in mainstream press. The closet (CLOSEST? lol) counterpart was Playgirl, but it never received the same kind of respect. Do you feel that male nudes are automatically viewed as pornographic?

LENU:  NO!  I feel that male nudes are automatically viewed as less than manly!  I have worked for both Playgirl magazine and Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine and the most constantly heard comment was, “THAT LOOKS TOO GAY!”  My work was rejected over and over again because the model looked too pretty, demure, sensual, etc!  Ironically, over 95 percent of Playgirls magazine subscribers were men!  And the women that attended Playgirl magazine public parties were recruited and paid.  Most women thought that the men featured in nude layouts were gay…when most were not.  Of course, we never shared these facts with our models.

B: One man’s art is another man’s pornography. What, if anything, do you think separates the two?

LENU:  Well, I think that the saying, “BEAUTY (or ART) IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER”, is a very true saying!  Personally, I feel that pornography has to involve a sexual act or an obvious focus on the male genitalia!  Instead of creating images that intentionally “turn-on” those that are viewing my work, I prefer to leave much of that aspect to their imagination.  This is why I seldom show male genitals in my images.  Often, the genitals distract from the true beauty of the subject and the composition.  I prefer to tease the audience by prompting the subject to seduce the lens.  That being said, pornography remains a billion dollar industry.  So, many must consider it a well accepted art form.       

B: I am a vocal proponent of pornography as a legitimate and valid media. What is your view of pornography?

LENU:  “TO EACH, HIS OWN!”  Personally, I find pornography very boring and repetitive!  However, I support those who are proponents of pornography.  And, I certainly consider pornography a legitimate and valid media.  It is a proven worldwide industry! 






B: You do shoot erotica. How far have you, or would you go in terms of what is shown in your work?

LENU:  I would go as far as full frontal nudity, only!  I do not photograph masturbation or sexual acts of any kind!  When men take off their clothes for me, that’s enough! 

B: Do you think erections can be viewed as artistic?

LENU:  Many of my subjects become aroused when they take off their clothes in front of me.  And some stay erected throughout the course of the session.  Erections can be natural, artistic and very sensual.  I just don’t make the erection my center of interest. 

B: Your own work centers mostly on male nudity, but it is done in a way that is not typically seen.  How would you described your style?

LENU:  A reporter once described my style as, “Playgirl meets Gentlemen’s Quarterly.”
I never focus on the fact that my subjects are nude.  The nudity takes a backseat to capturing the unique beauty of my subject, what he is expressing and the composition.  One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is when my subject views the product of our efforts and instead of seeing himself (naked)...he sees art!

B: You have a variety of different types and few, if any, are the typical physique model variety.  What types of men are you attracted to when it comes to your work?

LENU:  I am not attracted to any particular type of man.  My aim is to discover and capture the beauty, sensuality and unique essence of the subject that I am working with.  Of course, I insist that my subjects are in good physical condition.  But, huge muscles and chiseled facial features are not required to create a sensual, appealing image.  But, I am most attracted to masculine subjects who have never posed nude.

B: Where do you find most of your models?

LENU:  Most of my subjects are referred my models that I have worked with, their friends and family members.  Some contact me through my website: http://www.hunkfest.com  Others, I discovered while performing everyday activities!  I am great at spotting men with potential, but, I am not good at asking them to pose nude for me.  So, I advertise and rely on my (HunkHunters International) talent scouts!

B: Is it a requirement to pose nude to work with you?

LENU:  Full frontal nudity is never a requirement to work with me!  But, even those models who are only interested in fitness and fashion images or assignments, should be open to some form of provocative or semi-nude exploration.  A subject that can be totally comfortable in front of the camera with nothing on, will be far more likely to project naturally and comfortably with their clothes on.  Besides, I need to know that my subjects trust me completely.  My goal is to establish an open and honest rapport.







B: Do you find that models who pose nude are confident or is this something that just comes across on camera?

LENU:  That is what I appreciate most about photographing men!  Regardless of how physically striking they may appear, often they are surprised at how confident and sensual they appear in their images.  My job is to put them at ease and gain their trust.   I am confident enough for both of us and I am the one looking through the lens of the camera.  I will not release the shutter if the model does not appear confident!

B: How do you prepare your models for the shoots you do?

LENU:  I am more relaxed and comfortable when the model knows exactly what to expect from the moment he arrives to the completion of the photography session.  I prefer working with the model alone.  Which is not usually a luxury I am afforded when shooting a magazine or calendar layout.  However, in either situation, I ask the model to remove all of his clothes as soon as he arrives.  This allows for him to get comfortable at his leisure, and before long, become totally relaxed in front of me and whoever else is involved in the session.  If we are alone, while I am styling his hair and applying his makeup, I try to develop a rapport by letting him know as much about me as possible.  I ask him questions about his background and goals for the future, while interjecting as much humor in the conversation as possible.  If the studio is full of strangers, I become his protector and make sure he is treated with the utmost respect.  By the time we are ready to shoot, he knows that I respect and appreciate him and hold him in the highest regard.  During the session, I have developed a style and mannerism that reassures him that he is giving me exactly what I need to create outstanding images…or not!        

B: Where do your concepts come from? Is this something you plan in advance or do you let the sessions happen organically?

LENU:  Though, I start every session with a vague concept or direction in mind, I never allow myself to become locked into following any preconceived notion of what the finished image should look like.  What motivates me most is following some unexpected creative energy that comes out of nowhere.  So much is the direct result of a collaborative effort: …an expression, a body movement, a lighting effect and my ability to recognize and capture the moment before it is gone and can never be recreated.  So, more than keeping to a plan, I suppose, I do let the sessions happen organically! 

B: Not all of your images contain nudity. You range from athletic portraits to classic nudes, to more artistic style imagery. Do you have (a) preference when it comes to the types of images you do?

LENU:  I have always preferred shooting nude and semi-nude erotic images.  I mainly shoot portraits, fitness and fashion images to show more versatility in my subjects’ portfolios.  Many industry professionals look for shots that they can use to sell the model as mainstream high-fashion, athletic or commercial candidates for assignments.  These images do not take nearly as much creativity as the stylized artistic images.  Naturally, as an artist I derive far more satisfaction from creating images that or unlike any images that other artist have already created.  And the process is more challenging.       

B: How did you get interested in photography?

LENU:  As an Art Director, I could not find a photographer that could capture my vision.
So, I enrolled in a photography course at UCLA and tested until I developed a style. 

B: Which artists from the past and which current ones inspire you the most?

LENU:  No artist has inspired me more than Victor Skrebneski.  My lighting style is very similar to the lighting Skrebneski uses for his Chicago International Film Festival series of black and white images.  I may have even borrowed Skrebneski’s  “naked men in tank-tops” concept for my HUNKFEST E-xhibition promotion.  As for current artist, there are many that I find outstanding and inspirational: rSEANd PHOTOGRAPHY, pascal d ameyal, David Vance studio, Luis Rafael Photography, Mark Jenkins Photo, PICSESSIONS and wagnerLA are definite standouts! 










B: Have you incorporated any of their influences into your own work?

LENU:  So far, I have only incorporated the influences of Victor Skrebneski.  However, I am anxious to test some of the more natural characteristics depicted in some of the current artists’ work.

B: Our readers might not be familiar with some of your branding. What is clubLENU and HunkHunters International?

LENU:  During the early nineteen nineties, while photographing fashion portfolios for modeling agencies and nude/erotic layouts for magazines and calendars… I formed, the original clubLENU.

The club was mainly made up of attractive men with potential and enthusiasm but lacked the funds to pay me to shoot their modeling portfolios. We started out by doing what is commonly known as trade/test shoots. Only a modest amount of money changed hands… mostly, the photographer and model work for each other as an exchange of services. The model received professional fashion photographs for their portfolios. And, in exchange, they would agree to pose for my provocative art images. Full frontal nudity was not required… but, the models had to sign releases.

It soon became apparent that the men were far more interested in posing for the provocative images. They started to suggest nude and semi-nude concepts of their own. And each model had attractive male relatives or friends that wanted to join clubLENU!

At that time, however, I was pursuing a career in another industry.  After working with the men for about a year, the effort became overwhelming. I had no time to market the art that was being created!  And the cost of maintaining a studio that was hemorrhaging money while receiving death threats for promoting the project in the mainstream media proved to be too much to justify continuing the effort. 

Nevertheless, the men had awesome professional fashion portfolios that many used to land agents and assignments. Over the years, they’ve brought many smiles to my face as I have opened the morning newspaper or browsed through magazines.

I am very grateful for the lessons of the original members of clubLENU! My E-xhibition, STOP THE VIOLENCE...GET THE NAKED TRUTH, features the artwork of my original team. These courageous men, with such diverse backgrounds… believed in my vision! We thoroughly enjoyed exploring and developing the ideas that evolved into each image. The premature discontinuation of our efforts is a decision that I have always regretted!

So, after a several decades long hiatus, I have decided to resurrect clubLENU!
This effort is my attempt to continue their legacy! These men taught me to appreciate the “joy” that came from sharing my vision with them… their families and their friends.

However, this time around…there is a method to my madness and a new purpose! Instead of an exchange of services, the models and I will work together to create the best in erotic male art…for calendars, books, private parties and live exhibitions!

And, members of clubLENU will share in the profits as full partners. We will also raise funds to support charitable organizations that bring awareness to Domestic Violence Abuse issues.

I have found that I, particularly, enjoy working with men that were discovered by everyday people who understand and appreciated my work. In jest… I, affectionately, call my devoted and enthusiastic “talent scouts“… HunkHunters! HunkHunters International is, simply, our team of supporters/talent scouts!

Where did the name “HUNKFEST” come from? I often organized intimate informal gatherings to afford the men (models) an opportunity to show our work and appreciation to the people responsible for discovering them. These private parties were wild celebrations that we all looked forward to. At one such party, surrounded by very attractive men, one of my most prolific female HunkHunters, very aptly, dubbed the gathering a “GODDAMN HUNKFEST!”

clubLENU and HunkHunters International are light-hearted, free-spirited works in progress… to showcase my style of photography, raise funds for charity and discover new talent. .

B: You are also highly outspoken in your fight against domestic violence. You are launching a controversial E-xhibition to draw attention to the issue. What will this entail?

LENU:  Well, I would like to do far more than this initial effort.  Nearly one-third of all women murdered in the United States in recent years were victims of a current or former intimate partner. On average, more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Sadly Nevada ranks No. 1 in the rate of women murdered by men for a second year in a row, according to a study by the Violence Policy Center.

B: How did you get involved in the domestic violence issue? Has this always been a passion of yours?

LENU:  My father was an alcoholic and a habitual batterer.  Though, I was never physically abused by my father, I was a mama’s boy and shared the pain and humiliation my mother suffered as a victim.  Through years of therapy and spiritual work, I have learned to forgive and even love my father.  But, I will always remember the horror of living in a violently abusive environment.  Then, my mother had nowhere to go for help!  So, I am passionate about letting victims of domestic abuse know that they do not have to continue to live in abusive situations.  Now, there are excellent organizations that can help.  My goal is the raise funds to benefit these organizations.     

B: What are 5 things that you value most in your life?

LENU:  Five things that I value most in life are my sobriety (I have been clean and sober for 13 years); my spiritual connection to a higher power; the love of my family, close friends and my partner; my good health and the courage to follow my dreams.  You were wise not to ask me what I am grateful for.  That list would be much too long!





B: What is the best lesson you’ve learned in life?

LENU:  It is not arrogant, but humble, to accept God’s gifts and allow them to be expressed.  We are all here on God’s earth to love, forgive and accept one another as we are!  We are as God created us, no mistakes we have ever made or anyone’s judgments or negative opinions about us can in any way determine who we are or change our value.  It is not arrogant to believe that we are infinitely creative, brilliant and potentially perfect through the Grace of God.  In fact, it would be arrogant to think otherwise because what God has created cannot possibly be less than perfect!  I have had a lot of judgment thrown my way.  I have learned that we do not serve the world by taking on the judgments of others.

B: What advice would you give to artists just starting out?

LENU:  Shoot a lot!  Respect and appreciate your subjects!  Never stop learning!






B: In addition to the E-xhibition, what projects are coming up in 2012?

LENU:  A male calendar, book (UrbanNudists) and Las Vegas Strip Club (clubLENU) featuring male models instead of male strippers!  Full Frontal Nudity is Required! 

©2012 – Sean Dibble

2 comments:

  1. these photos belong to the last century, how about an update?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Lenu's work but I think that you will have to follow the photographer's links to see more than what is here. Hopefully I'll be able to do an update in the future.

    ReplyDelete

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