The Matter of Absence boldly explores gay male sexuality and anonymity in a culture inundated with selfies. “When I was growing up,” Florian Hetz tells Out, “finding imagery of naked men was impossible. You maybe found guys in briefs and that was the closest you could get. In the pre-Internet times that’s what I was left with for my fantasies.”
Initially shooting friends and lovers in the moments before, during, or after sex, Hetz now shoots anonymous men because it requires a different form of intimacy.
“I don’t really have a model type,” he says. “For me it’s important to have different shapes, sizes, colors, but that goes back to my personal sex life because I’ve never had a specific type in general.”
The Matter of Absence will be officially released in Berlin this Saturday, October 8 at Berghain. Out caught up with Hetz on the eve of his book launch and talked about censorship, where he finds his models, and how looking at his images is like peeking through a glory hole.
Out: How did you get started as a photographer?
Florian Hetz: Well, blame the drag queens. One of my best friends is drag queen and she had one of those early Canon cameras. She never really used it and we used to go out a lot and basically I took over her camera and started to take pictures of my friends, mostly drag queens, at parties, at night, and that was more or less like my first contact with taking photos. From there I got my first camera and kept taking photos, but it was never really intended for anyone but myself, more like a journal or a diary.
Simultaneously there was Tumblr which was fascinating for me because all of a sudden all of my picture books were online more or less. I could scroll through photos and photos and photos and photos. I had a Tumblr account and eventually I posted one photo which is my hand holding the dick of a lover of mine just after sex. It’s a quite nice photo—the dick is not yet soft but also not yet completely stiff, so it’s a nice image of a moment exactly after sex. I posted that and got ridiculous feedback. People went crazy and so I thought, OK, maybe I’ll post some more, and that’s basically how it started.
In your process, you’ve moved from working with friends and lovers to shooting people you don’t know. How do you find your models?
Grindr. As much as I’m not using Grindr for my personal sex life I use it really for models. My profile says quite clearly I’m not looking for sex, but that I’m looking for guys who are comfortable in their skin and with their body and with being naked in front of a camera. I probably have more people willing to be part of my journey than I probably should which I’m super, super happy about.
There’s a very particular kind of framing in your images, an emphasis on the closeup which is a way of taking the obvious things about sex we all know and making them somehow abstract.
I often look at it like looking through a glory hole, back in the days when there were still glory holes. You looked through a glory hole and you saw little things—or sometimes big things. But you never really saw the whole picture. You saw parts of a story. There might have been two guys fucking behind the wall and you saw a little bit of action or a dick or pictures of a body. This is for me the exciting and interesting point. Going back in time when I was little and hanging out in public toilets and trying to find sex in an area where there was no gay life and having these moments of excitement where you look at something but you never actually get the whole story. The story happens in your head.
Have you had any experiences with censorship when posting your work online?
Basically my whole Instagram history is a story of censorship. I stopped Instagram back in January after having five accounts deleted within two months. I didn’t show any graphic stuff. I showed really suggestive stuff, but again that stuff happens in the head of the person, it never happens in the photos. I met all of their guidelines but still the pictures got taken down and I got deleted over and over again.
Wow. It was that bad?
A photo got deleted where you could see a hand on a white sheet. Literally—a hand on a white sheet. You couldn’t see a dick under the sheets or anything else under the sheet. It was a hand grabbing a sheet.
There’s this weird American moral code that’s coming over to Europe. I work every weekend at Berghain and I see the kids dressing up or dressing down and now I see all of the girls taking out their tits—nice—but taping their nipples. I’m like, what’s wrong with your nipple? Why do your tape your nipple? You do all the effort of taking out your tits, which, great, wonderful, nice thing, but why do you tape your nipples? We live in Europe and I live in Berlin, a city where you can strip down in the middle of the city in a public park and be buck naked and freeball. There is nothing wrong with our genitals, there is nothing wrong with nipples and this whole thing really comes from American companies bringing their morals over here.
Many of your photos focus on saliva, cum—
I’m fascinated by bodily fluids, really, really fascinated. I find it really beautiful, really sexy. I do like precum a lot. I find it stunning, just to see a dick drool.
It’s beautiful! It’s really, really beautiful. There are some guys that have this gift to completely leak like a faucet and I’m just like woooow.
But the cum in your pictures—is it real?
It’s real. I’m always open if the guys want to cum. Some of them are really shy. It’s quite a big step to undress in front of someone who is not undressed. Some guys are really aroused by it. It’s a sexual fantasy. For some it’s not. I always make it clear that it’s not about having sex with me—I don’t really want to be part of that.
There’s a cultural fear of the erect penis.
The erect penis? I mean that’s the next step. A flaccid dick, every time it happens in a Hollywood production, is a massive thing for the media. The question is why? We’re still in this time where the dick has to stay in the trousers because it’s something really scary. I understand why a group of women might tell me I’m scared of that, but then it’s a different story. It’s like breasts or vagina—it’s fine to show them. It’s skin.
After all this, do you think you’ll open another Instagram account?
Well, I do have a secret Instagram account. We can bring it out and not make it secret anymore (@florian.hetz), but I don’t follow anyone because I’m going to get deleted anyway.
Madison Moore is a London-based pop culture critic. Follow him on Instagram @madisonmooreonline.