Even in mainstream culture, it's youth that gets all the attention. Gay men are notoriously no better.
So two photographers set out to find men over 50 and prove their beauty. Some of the recruits dropped out because they wanted to appear "more polished or porn-like." But tommy+alan photography wanted to show the men as they really are, "not some airbrushed ideal."
tommy+alan photography is helmed by photographer Tommy Wu and multimedia designer Alan Reade, who are partners in life and work. The Los Angeles duo's goal is to push the boundaries of editorial and commercial photography and to rebel against what is called sexy. For many of the "Men Over 50," who talk openly about both their triumphs and struggles in a series of accompanying audio clips, the picture we see is of a man who beat back adversity and came out looking great.
The Advocate spoke with Wu and Reade about what they see when they look at the pictures.
The Advocate: So how do you work as a team?
Alan: We build on each other’s strengths. I work with Tommy to set up the concepts for weeks or even months beforehand, and I talk to the models before the shoot about locations, concepts, clothing. Then at the time of the session, Tommy can stay in the moment, looking for the perfect shot.
Tommy: We complement each other. And we also bicker a lot ... but it’s a good bickering!
How did you come to this project?
Tommy: I had done some photos for a few older friends of mine and they turned out pretty good, so I thought it could be a series. At the same time, in my early 40s, I had some anxiety about heading toward 50, so this series inspired me to look forward to my 50s and beyond.
Alan: As I saw the photos, I liked how they came across as both vulnerable and sexy, which is not always how older men are portrayed in pop culture.
Can you tell us about these men? How did you find them? Are they from all over? Palm Springs?
Tommy: A few of them are friends, and some guys we found by putting postcards at the gym. So far, most of the men are from Palm Springs. As the project progresses, we’ll keep adding more men, from wherever we find them!
Alan: A few guys actually backed out of the project. I think they wanted to be portrayed in a way that was more polished or porn-like. We had to explain that the goal of the project is to show the beauty of real men over 50, not some airbrushed ideal.
What did you learn or experience from shooting this series that surprised you?
Alan: I was floored by how matter-of-fact a few of the models were about overcoming tremendous adversity. For instance, one of the men had to escape communist Vietnam the same way Tommy did or face dire consequences. And at least three of the guys faced down terminal illnesses and not only lived to tell about it but also look great doing it! Many of the guys in the project are gay men, and I’m inspired at the strength they display.
Tommy: Through the series, I could see these men thrive in their newfound loves, professions, and personal goals. Fifty is just the beginning for these guys.
What’s your next project?
Alan: We’re working on a project called “Sexy Geeks,” which we’ll premiere later this fall. That project highlights hot guys in the tech industry. For some reason, it’s turning out to be muscular Asian men in their 20s so far, which is great! But we’re open to sexy geeks of all kinds.
Tommy: And like “Men Over 50,” “Sexy Geeks” has audio clips to go with the images, to give the guys three dimensions. Eventually, we plan to turn these multimedia projects into books. We want all our images to come across as more than just beefcake.