Youth And Beauty
By Jack Pierson
David Armstrong relishes the one-on-one intimacy of shooting without the
airbrushed, over-styled deception of modern picture taking — which is
abundantly apparent in his new monograph, 615 Jefferson Avenue (Damiani, $45), a dreamy collection of angelic, seemingly vulnerable young men.
The 57-year-old artist has spent almost 20 years in New York City and uses his Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn address as the setting and title of this series. The errant models are bathed in muted natural light, mostly half-naked or outfitted inconspicuously (except for the occasional tutu). Their portraits emanate a beatific listlessness indicative of the trust the boys put in the photographer.
Armstrong met the artist Jack Pierson in 1980 in Provincetown, although Pierson likes to say that Armstrong's reputation -- as a subject, peer, and friend of fellow photographer Nan Goldin -- preceded him. "There was a build up to meeting him," he recalls to protests ("I must have been such a letdown") from the soft-spoken photographer.
The two friends invited Out editor-in-chief Aaron Hicklin to eavesdrop on a conversation that swerved between the problems of recruiting models from Facebook, whether Americans are comfortable being eroticized, and why Armstrong will never shoot a catalogue for Victoria's Secret.
Jack: Your new book is so pretty, I can't believe it. Are a lot of these portraits from fashion sittings?
David: Some, and then maybe half are done with someone I met at a shoot.
Jack: You really get into relationships with them all. I find that fascinating, because I'm much too shy, but you can really hang out with them. It's nice.
David: Some of them I've gotten really close with, but not all. It is nice.
Jack: Well, you have the house. They come hang out with you -- that's the difference.
David: Right. Some of them. There's, like, maybe 10 who do.
Jack: You don't charge these boys anything to stay?
David: I do, but the house costs a fortune to run. The utilities are $1,500 a month.
Jack: Because they all have their computers plugged in probably, and video games and all the TVs going. You should put everything on a meter that they have to feed quarters into.
David: I'm very vigilant about shutting everything off.
Jack: And you've got a big TV that keeps them entertained. If they just moved in, that would be fine, but it's the dating--
David: --It's not dating.
Jack: No, but I mean it's the getting to know them.
David: [Sings 'Getting to Know You'] Well, you have a life partner and everything.
Jack: I guess, but he wouldn't mind having them all around. Do your boys contact you on Facebook and say, "Can I take a picture?"
David: No, they just want to say, "Oh, I love your photos."
Jack: Because they see them in fashion magazines? Nobody gets in touch with me on Facebook.