Thursday, June 13, 2013


Three times the charm is a phrase that applies to KJ Heath when it comes to BLISS. His images have graced  three covers (so far) and his star continues to rise in the world of photography.  He has a way of framing his subjects that showcases their sensuality in poses that not only look natural, but ones we can relate to.  The images range from gorgeous head shots to physique and even venture into the erotic genre, all while maintaining his unique signature style and artistic sensibility. And that shower of his is quickly becoming infamous.

It is always a pleasure to interview KJ because his answers reveal his candor and sense of humor. Here is a man who reveres not only the finished product but the process through which he creates his wonderful images, in addition to the healthy respect he has for his models and peers within the industry.

BLISS:  You are the king of covers here at BLISS magazine and we love featuring your gorgeous photos. What is about your art that you feel appeals to so many people?

KJ HEATH: Well first, thank you. I've never been called a king of anything before. Occassionaly I've been called a queen, but never a king. It is really an honor every time I have the privilege of being featured in Bliss.

I think my work most likely appeals to people because there is a strong sensual energy to it. I like that and I think others do too. I also think people like to see new faces and I focus much of my work on guys who are yet-to-be discovered.

B:  Your model choice is rather varied as well. What qualities attract you as a photographer and what qualities do you look for when choosing people to work with?

KH: I truly believe there is beauty in all types of men, and I love to explore that. I've certainly shot conventional "male model" types, but I've often felt some of my best shoots were with guys who are not professional models but who had a strong personal energy that really came through in the work. 

B:  Cover man David Davila seems to be a particular favorite of yours. Would you consider him to be one of your muses?

KH: I started shooting David very early in my career and we've both helped each other to grow throughout our collaborations over the past two years. I guess that would be a very fitting definition of a muse.

B:  What is it about David that makes him such a great subject, in your opinion?

KH: There is a lot of mutual trust, which is the foundation for any productive model/photographer relationship. Plus it doesn't hurt that he has a rockin' body and knows how to work it for the camera.

B:  There are so many new models arriving on the scene daily, in addition to some well-known faces that many photographers have photographed.  Are there any out there that are on your personal wish list?

KH: Well, the short answer is any model that David Wagner shot. I am seriously convinced he has a farm in Montana where he grows these guys! Other than that, I do have three big names on my wish list - Mark Mackillop, Marlon Texiera, and DW Chase.

B:  What process do you go through when preparing for a shoot? Do you have concepts or are your sessions more organic?

KH: My sessions are usually more organic, but it really depends on the model. I've worked with models that want to work through lots of concepts before the shoot, and I enjoy it if the model brings ideas to the table. However, I find it very hard to work on concepts if I've never worked with the model before. It is difficult to artificially construct a concept when I've not shot them before and don't have any sense of who they are. I don't try to fit a model into my preconceived box. I like to explore with them. If I were shooting fashion regularly, it would be all about the clothes. To me that seems easier because the clothes are the star. My models usually aren't wearing clothes so I'm trying to capture them, their spirit and their energy, and for me I need some relationship in which to explore that.

B:  Do you prefer shooting in studio or on location?

KH: I overwhelmingly prefer the studio where I control light, temperature, basically the total environment. I find shooting on location, particularly outside to be distracting and challenging although I love other photographer's work who have mastered it.

B:  There is an undeniable tone of sensuality and eroticism that runs through much of your work.  What is the inspiration for these images?

KH: Honestly I think it is because there is a lot of eroticism that runs through me. Maybe that statement will be easily misunderstood, but I guess what I'm saying is that I don't turn it on for a shoot, and then turn it off after the shoot. It is a big part of who I am as a person and it is my opportunity to explore it and share it with the world. I also am really inspired by photographing flowers. Strangely, no one is interested in seeing that on my website.

B:  Do you think male models are becoming more comfortable displaying their nude physiques or is there still a level of apprehension?

KH: I think most male models are comfortable with it. However, I think the models believe that the mainstream market is not comfortable with them posing nude, and that is where the issue lies. I shoot nudes of probably 80% of my models, and many are very skittish about me publishing them. I don't think it has anything to do with their personal comfort, and everything to do with how they think it will impact their career going forward and how the market will categorize them. They worry that if they are seen nude or in shots that are too erotic, they automatically will be lumped into a "porn" category that will be difficult to overcome should they wish to do so. I'm usually shooting guys who are very early in their careers, so they are really concerned about making the right choices.

B:  What about society…do you think the attitude towards male nudity has evolved and become  more accepted or is there still a stigma attached to it?

KH: I think it is gradually changing in the mainstream market. 

B:  One of the photographers I interviewed said that the best images come when there is an unspoken level of sexual tension during the shoot. Do you agree with this statement?

KH: If I'm looking for shots with sexual energy, then absofuckinglutely.  If there is no tension, the shot has zero sexual energy. Plus, those are really boring photo shoots.
For the record, I'm not always trying to get shots with sexual energy. I prefer a lot less sexual tension when I'm shooting pets. ;-)

B:  I read the comments and answer the questions that are sent to me and one of the subjects that tends to generate the most curiosity is if models ever get aroused during the sessions and if so, how the photographer handles the situation. Would you like to respond to that?

KH: LOL.  Yes, models often get aroused during a shoot. Actually a large percentage of my models stand there and fluff. No one wants to look small or have to pad their underwear with a pair of socks.

Regardless, I'm a professional and I'm not using my photography to find Mr. Right ...or Mr. Right-now.

B:  The other misconception is that models are simply showing their true personalities rather than portraying characters. The inference is that highly sexualized images are the result of the models personality. Do you find this to be an accurate assumption?

KH: I think sex is part of everyone's personality. However, they may use a little character development to push the boundaries of where they might normally go in their daily life. I see it as a wonderful way for someone to explore their own comfort level in a safe environment. Everyone should feel like the sexiest person in the world at some point in their life.

B:  Have you always been artistic with a primary focus on photography?

KH: I have always been "artsy" as my mother liked to say. I painted, sang and art directed everything in my path growing up. I went to music conservatory starting at age 12. The photography is actually very recent. I've only been a photographer for three years.

B:  Do you remember what your first shoot was like and who the model was?

KH: Oh yes. His name is Paul Montoya. He was my first and I've shot him probably 5 or 6 times now. He canceled on me a couple times and when he showed up for the shoot, he had pink eye or something funky going on. He said he didn't want to cancel on me again so he thought maybe we could work around it. We did. Some of my favorite shots are still from that first shoot and I love working with Paul. 

B:  It seems like every photographer has their personal “go-to” model that they end up shooting more than any other. Who is yours and what continues to inspire you about the collaboration?

KH:  I tend to shoot many of my models multiple times because I think as the relationship gets stronger, the shots get better. My go-to right now would have to be Michael Hargis. He is growing and evolving as a model, and I am growing and evolving as a photographer. I think our journey is very similar -- just on opposite sides of the lens.

B:  The landscape is full of some incredible talents with very diverse styles. Who are the photographers that inspire you and what is it about their work that you admire?

KH: Wow, there are so many talents out there.  First off, I have to say I want to have a total "pho-mance" with David Wagner. I have the highest professional respect for his work.  Plus he is an incredibly nice guy.

I love Bel Soto as well and I'm loving his foray into video. His work is timeless and classic. Another favorite is Matthias Vriens-McGrath. His work is high fashion with incredible sensual simplicity.

If I could be a fly on the wall of any photographer's studio, it would have to be Justin Monroe's. That boy pushes limits I didn't know could be pushed, and I LOVE it. I know I could not get the shots he gets, and I'm fine with that. I am just happy pulling up his website every Tuesday like clockwork for the last 2 years.

I also have to say what an inspiration my fellow Chicago photographers are. Bryan Nevin, Dave Ouano and Doug Birkenheuer. They are ridiculously talented. While we often work with many of the same models, we strangely don't feel completive with each other. I am always genuinely excited to see the terrific work coming out of these guys.

B:  How would you describe your own particular style and do you see elements of other photographers in your work?

KH: I like to think my work is intense and sensual, yet leans toward the classic. I make the model the star and location and clothing are very much bit players.

Everyone I've mentioned earlier has had some impact on my work so I would guess that you will see their influence in my work. What is interesting is that I've done several shoots jointly with Dave Ouano. We'll take turns shooting the same model, wearing the same thing and using the same backgrounds. However the final work looks very different. It comes down to what each of us wants to capture. I tend to like the model to have an intense relationship with my lens and lots of eye contact. Dave has a very different perspective.  We both get amazing shots that are unique and fit within our own personal style.

B:  I am a huge Justin Monroe fan too and feel he is able to do images with such an intense level of sexuality while remaining creative and artistic. It is a quality that I admire greatly and wish I could pull off in some of my own work. Are there any artists who make you say, “I wish I could pull that off” when you view their images?

KH: For me it is Matthias Vriens-McGrath. He can put a model in the simplest of sets and make it look high fashion. I try it and too often it looks like I'm some creeper who got a camera for his birthday. Matthias has amazing talent and an eye for sensuality that is simple yet extremely polished.

B:  Many photographers also have a signature setting that is easy to relate to them when you see the background, regardless of who is in the photo. Rick Day has the dark wall, David Wagner has that low white wall, Thomas Synnamon has that couch and white rug, and you have a certain shower. What is it about the shower that draws you to continue using it?

KH: The white wall and the dark wall were taken, so I needed something that not everyone else was doing. Plus I think I get better shots when the models are doing something other than standing there trying to "pose". A shower keeps them busy and honestly, I like the wet look.  Models are always surprised when they see the size of my shower. It is really pretty tiny.

B:  The cover shoot pairs you with David Davila once again. What is the message behind these particular images?

KH: Originally I wanted to shoot models using these brightly colored pieces of fabric as part of a gay pride concept. However David asked if he could bring some pink underwear to the shoot and post the images to show support of two very important people in his life who were battling breast cancer. I loved the idea and when I went to buy fabric, I picked up some in pink. While I shot him with other colors, the pink is my favorite.

B:  What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect about being a photographer?

KH:  Just having the opportunity to express my creativity in such a public way is extremely rewarding. Guys are beautiful and I find it inspiring to be surrounded by beauty. Also the many friendships I've made with models and other photographers is rewarding. My work truly saved me during a dark period in my life.

B:  When this is the primary source of income, what would you say is the biggest obstacle to making money?

KH:  There are lots of amazing photographers and only so many people willing to pay. If you are going into photography for the money, it probably is not the best decision you've ever made.

B:  We live in a digital world and most, if not all, of our art eventually ends up online. As the saying goes, the Internet is forever, so long after we are gone our work will have continued life. How does this make you feel as an artist?

KH:  Maybe the internet is the new and always accessible Louvre. In any case, I hope someone sees my work 50 years from now and gets enjoyment from it.

B:  Success and fame are no longer interchangeable words and it is far easier to achieve some level of notoriety these days, even without actually having talent or accomplishments. Are you aware that your work has made your name recognizable throughout the world? How do react to that?

KH:  I'm still paying cover to get into any club in Chicago, so I'm not getting too excited just yet. While I won't say I have never been recognized out in public, people generally don't know what I look like so the chances of me being spotted aren't too high. If any of you happen to recognize me out and about, please buy me a drink already.  Thank you!

B:  When it’s all said and done what would you most like to be remembered for as an artist?

KH:  My art brings me so much happiness, so I hope those who are important in my life see my art as something that made me a more varied and happy person and therefore I was able to enrich their lives through it.

B:   Aside from your art, what are 4 things that mean the most to you in life?

1.  My husband
2.  My daughter
3.  My close friends and family
4.  Hero (my greyhound who sleeps 23.5 hours each day) and Miss Pickles (my little rat terrier who snuggles up to me every night)

 B:  No matter how many interviews I do, people still seemed to be surprised to discover the personality behind the artists, especially when the images they produce are as bold and sexy as yours. Can you tell me 5 things about yourself that might surprise everyone?

1.  I went to college on a piano scholarship.
2.  I grew up on a soybean farm in Ohio.
3.  My family has been in the US since 1624. (now that's pretty darn American!)
4. I go to a French language school currently and have also studied Spanish, German, Turkish and Ukrainian.

5. I once directed a play in fifth grade, and got in trouble when I made a couple of the boys appear shirtless. (I will always stand by my belief that it was important to the integrity of the story!)

B:  What are some of the projects we can expect to see from you as the year goes on?

KH: I'm headed to Montreal in September and Prague in October so maybe you'll get to see some beautiful French-Canadian and Czech guys show up in my work.

B:  You’ve made quite a name for yourself in a rather short period of time and have amassed quite a fan base, even if you are not aware of it. Any last words for them?

KH: I'd really love to hear from my fans. Drop me a line and tell me what you like and what you don't like. What models do you want to see more of?

©2013 – Sean Dibble

1 comment:

  1. Nothing better than seeing a good guy have his dreams come true! Keep it up! - Par


David Costa