“In a riff that is part Fight Club and part Tom of Finland . . . Joe’s images are at once sexually charged yet still manage to capture the quintessence of elegance. Joe has somehow found the ability to extend into new territory the road paved for him by at least a couple of his artistic predecessors – Bob Mizer of the Athletic Model Guild, whose wrestling and male-bonding photographs managed to redefine erotica while possessing an innate naiveté; and Jim French, whose COLT models defined for a generation what masculinity 'looked' like.”
--from Reed Massengill’s Introduction to Testosterone
Imagine that strapping guy who works shirtless at Abercrombie & Fitch luring guys and gals into the store to buy the latest lifestyle clothing. Now imagine him covered in mud, grappling with another for domination. Or strip him down to a jock and drop him in a gritty, darkened warehouse. These and other coarse images embody Testosterone, a new book by New York-based photographer Joe Oppedisano.
Joe, whose advertising and editorial work has appeared in DNA, Esquire, Genre, Instinct, The New York Times, The New York Observer, Playboy, Playgirl, Vibe and others, has just released Testosterone, a 192-page, full-color retrospective of his career as a photographer of men. This mammoth coffee table book -- full of dark, sexy photographs -- combines real Abercrombie & Fitch models with real blue-collar men in dark boiler room brawls and mud fights and extensively tattooed men in formal portraits.
About his work, Joe said, "The photos in this book come from a long line of inspirations and influences—aesthetic, sexual, human—but primary to their essence is the epiphany I had at the age of 16 when I saw my first Tom of Finland drawing and realized I could never look at men the same way again. A little while later the same feelings were stirred when I got my hands on a copy of COLT Magazine. The way the men were portrayed: larger than life, strong, masculine, and not just sexy, but sexual creatures. They were beasts, almost gods. And I was obsessed."
Joe studied textile and fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Upon graduation, he began an internship at Esquire magazine as the assistant to famous fashion director Robert Bryan.
Eventually Joe worked as a fashion editor for W, Vanity Fair and countless other publications as well as a stylist for celebrities such as Ricky Martin and Carol King before having a self-proclaimed "pre-mid-life crisis" at 30, when he decided he couldn't possibly dress another model.
"As a stylist for men’s fashion I always tried to make the models as masculine as possible, no matter how 'gay' the outfit was," Joe said. "And deep down I always wanted someone to shoot a Tom of Finland fashion story. Thank God they all said no, because years later on a commission for Genre Magazine I got to do it myself, the way I wanted it to be.
"I cast five guys who were the modern day iconic equivalent of the Tom of Finland men -- Abercrombie & Fitch models. I had to explain to their agents what the shots were going to be like and that it was important to have open-minded guys. I still didn’t think they knew what they were getting themselves into on that 110-degree day on a New Jersey horse farm, but as soon as we started shooting Polaroids and they saw how fucking amazing they looked, they really got into it. After the shoot we knew we had nailed it. It was just like I’d seen a million times in my head and it was the greatest feeling. When you pay tribute to Tom of Finland, you’d better do it right.”
Never having taken a class in photography, he taught himself the techniques of lighting, composition and working with the models to get what he wanted across onto film. In addition to Tom of Finland, his influences are obvious -- Jim French, Avedon, Mapplethorpe and Helmut Newton. He has shown in galleries in Paris, Amsterdam and Germany, as well as his hometown of New York City.
In the coming weeks, UndiesDrawer will present Joe Oppedisano's photography in 'Oppedisano's Testosterone Temptations.' Of course we'll be featuring photos of Joe's men in their underwear, jocks, etc.