Delayed Gratification

6.24.2014

By Lauren Elise Van

Photographer Benjamin Fredrickson explores the humanity buried behind contemporary hookup culture

"Micah" and "Self-Portrait" from the "Minneapolis" Series

From a boy with nipples pinched by clothespins to a pensive self-portrait with a 7-inch hard dick and a Chihuahua named Loïc, Benjamin Fredrickson has become known for photography that melds auteur gay porn with the fashion eye of Helmut Newton—if Newton had much smaller budgets and was into boys.

Fredrickson’s sexually charged work garnered him a cult following. It stood out because it was not an exploration of fantasy, but rather a documentation of his own erotic life, all played out unabashedly in front of the camera. Many of his subjects were found on hook-up sites. The images were both vulnerable and extreme. Fredrickson uncovers the raw beauty in human imperfections. His photos also give insight into the humanity buried behind 21st-century geo-location hookup culture.

SLIDESHOW | Benjamin Fredrickson's Photographs

“There is no veil of perfection to place on a subject,” Fredrickson says. “Perfection is the subject themselves. Without exploiting anything, it’s more of a celebration.”

Fredrickson is part of the current group show, Visual Aids: Ephemera as Evidence, at La Mama Galleria (up through June 29). But with his contribution, Fredrickson is showing another side of his self—more intimate and G-rated, but just as alluring. At 33, the photographer is making an about-face with his work.

“I’d like to show my versatility as a photographer,” Fredrickson says. “My earlier work is more personal and sexual. It’s so hard when you do something like this because it sits with you forever.”

On Tuesday June 24, YUASA clothing line and the hip downtown shop International Playground, will be releasing a 100-piece limited-edition boxer short printed with Fredrickson’s risqué Polaroids. The photo series is called "Anonymity." Creative director and owner of International Playground, John Pizzolato explains: “The Polaroids are being sold as condom pockets. Its the suggestion of anonymous sex but still saying play smart and protect.”

On an afternoon earlier this month, Fredrickson was sprucing up his pop-up display at La Mama. He wore combat boots with his brown hair gracing the top of his thick black-framed glasses. For the exhibition, he has been taking Polaroids of attendees and projecting the images with personal hand-written descriptions. The photographs range from close-ups of fingernails and ponytails to sitters casually perched on a chair against a textured background. It was simple and beautiful, and also immediate, mixing the old school method of Poloroid film with today’s demand for information immediacy.

“I usually shoot at home,” Fredrickson says, “it’s nice to have this other space, that I can be like ‘My studio in Manhattan.’ It brings a different energy.” Besides his images of gallery-goers, other work, such as an angelic image of model Hanne Gaby Odiele was resting along the wall.

Next month, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York will display Fredrickson’s 2011 image of Warhol muses Jane Forth and Corey Grant Tippin at the NYC Makers’ first-ever MAD Biennial exhibit as well as being published in the accompanying book. The exhibition spotlights the creative communities thriving across the five boroughs of New York and Fredrickson will be documenting the show with a series of Polaroids for the museum. Fredrickson often eschews the digital realm, saying, “There’s just a different depth to film photography.”

Visual AIDS Play Smart trading cards

Fredrickson grew up in Minneapolis among a creative family. His grandparents were musicians, his mother dabbled in painting, and his father could often be found carving wood in the back yard. “I use to want to be a fashion designer” he says. He spoke about a “dark and melancholic” time in adolescence—a past that drove Fredrickson take up photography in 1995.

He took along his hang-ups and insecurities to college, studying at Parsons Paris School of Art and Design, and earning his BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. At school, he funneled his conflicted emotions into art and sex and the overlap of the two. “I got into sex work meeting all these people in weird situations,” he says. “I started photographing the people I met. It was self-exploration.”

After each intimate encounter and each photograph documented thereafter, Fredrickson realizes the men were different than the ones he once stumbled across in magazines. One of Fredrickson’s first series, “Minneapolis,” examines the diverse coterie he met from 2005-2010. “I want to show that the people I am meeting didn’t fit the kind of code the media projects of the stereotypical gay man,” he explains. “There’s specific kinds of body types that weren’t being displayed.”

He moved to New York in 2010, sleeping on various friends’ couches. He worked retail in the fashion stores OAK and Opening Ceremony. “Working at O.C., you never know who is going to come in,” he says. “A woman will come in and drop 12K in 30 minutes.”

It was here he landed his first editorial gig for Dazed and Confused to photograph the Korean pop-star CL. The job wasn’t very glamorous considering it was shot in his 8-by-8 Greenpoint apartment that was just large enough to fit the singer and a ravishing Fendi fur coat. He has gone on to shoot for publications like Apartmento, BUTT, Dazed and Confused, Document Journal, Garmento, and PIN-UP and been featured in gallery exhibitions All the World’s a Stage at the Daniel Cooney Fine Art gallery earlier this spring as well as a solo show at the Museum of Arts and Design.

SLIDESHOW | Benjamin Fredrickson Photographs Dancer Ryan Steele for Out

Upon leaving the gallery, Fredrickson shouts, “Wait a second!” and grabs a bag filled with two XL condoms, aloe moisturizing lube, and a few "Visual AIDS Play Smart" trading cards—a collaboration he did with the artist and illustrator Silvia Prada. “I wanted to do something with a woman’s perspective,” he explains. “She works a lot in male form but from a female perspective.”

While Fredrickson’s photographs have become less provocative and more editorial, he continues to keep his personal style intact. He compares his older pieces to his new work as a “shift from a darker morose tone to something more light and fun. Fredrickson’s photography mirrors where he stand in his personal life. “It has a relationship to where I am.”

For more on Benjamin Fredrickson's work, visit his website.

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