MAN: BLACK, Images of Black Male Beauty is a gorgeous coffee table collection lensed by Washington DC-based artist, illustrator, novelist and photographer Michael-Christopher. It's a tribute to the classical Black and African male aesthetic. The collection is also an antidote to stereotypical notions of Black men, the artist says.
"I was conducting some research on HIV prevention and couldn’t find what I was looking for," Michael-Christopher told R20 last week. "I did a Google search for "Black men" and the result were pages and pages of porn. I thought, 'Wow. This is how we’re seen?' Very disappointing and very upsetting. And as a Black man, the last thing that I think of myself is as a porn object."
MAN: BLACK is Michael-Christopher's first photography collection. Many readers first encountered his work in the very popular Living the Life graphic novel series. Michael-Christopher has also written several critically-acclaimed novels, such as From Top to Bottom and its sequel Unspeakable. All are published by his own publishing imprint MC Books.
More stunning images and read the interview WHEN YOU JUMP...
Michael-Christopher is also the publisher SWERV, the newish Black LGBT magazine. The magazine profiled yours truly and R20 last December. "I've been busy with quite a few projects lately," he laughs. "But I'm very glad that the book is being well received."
ROD 2.0: MAN: BLACK is a very authentic collection of Black men. The men are gorgeous, but many are not stereotypically "beautiful" by mainstream standards.
MICHAEL-CHRISTOPHER: Most of the guys actually are friends of mine. There are some friends of mine that are pursuing modeling. But for the most part, I had to pull them picking or screaming. Most didn’t see themselves as worthy of a photo book.
Quite a few of the models, when they saw the finished work, their first question was, “Is that me?” The next question was, “Did you Photoshop?” Then they wanted to take more pictures! It felt good to let that person know they are beautiful, no matter how dark their skin is, how full their lips are. A lot of the guys are African, too.
Exactly. It's an ode to classical African male beauty. Dark skin, full lips, etc.. Many of us find that very sexy, but that isn’t reinforced in media and culture. We’re also conditioned as Blacks to believe that lighter skin is inherently more beautiful.
MC: I know. That’s crazy. It’s 2011 and it’s still very much alive.
Talk to me about the production process. When did you shoot, how long did it take, what equipment did you use … ?
MC: I’m an illustrator and graphic designer but have always dabbled in photography. Most of the images you see are from a Nikon D300 but a few are Canon. I started shooting seriously for MAN: BLACK in 2009. That’s when I decided I would work on the project. It was published in October 2010.
Did you style the models yourself?
Some of the models are outstanding. Jermaine, the model in the soccer series. And Marcus is killer, too.
Marcus used to work at Lambda Rising here in D.C. He was one of the managers there. Young guy, very charismatic, hard to pin down. I could never get him to shoot. That one photo came because he called me one night to talk and he came over. I had my equipment out and we did a test shoot but never an actual shoot. I wanted to get a photo of him and Stanley, who is on the cover.
You mentioned pornography earlier. Do you remember [porn producer] Michael Lucas’ comments about Black men? He said he didn't employ many Black male models because he couldn’t find any beautiful Black men.
MC: (Laughing) Yes, I remember that unfortunately. It’s a shame when people look for features that aren’t even characteristic of a race. There is so much beauty and so much diversity.
R20: You shot more editorial work but what do you think of Black male representation in fashion?
MC: Good question. Maybe that’s why I lean toward editorial. It’s so uneven, there is such a high standard and hurdle for Black models. I’ve heard things like what Michael Lucas has said, or what the folks at The Advocate or Out said. "When we have Black people on our covers, they don’t sell." There are very few companies in fashion, very few brands that will do use Black male models.
Much more so in the LGBT community than the mainstream. There is a thinking that Black people are the face of AIDS and they don’t want the stigma associated with that. So they don’t want to use our faces in branding, advertising, etc.
Hopefully the corporate culture will change soon. By the way, I admire what you’re doing at SWERV. It must be a challenge to build sustainable print magazine in this economy and internet culture. And thanks for interviewing me. How goes the magazine?
MC:It’s doing well. We’re just about to ship our summer swimsuit issue. Usually we have one cover but this year we are running two covers, one for the men and one for the ladies. I’m very pleased with the reception so far.