Perhaps the paper peeling off the windows at the Hang Man Gallery is a metaphor for the fact that gay sexuality cannot be held back. As I’m walking up to the Leslieville art space to interview Drasko Bogdanovic about his new exhibition, Naked Man Staring at You, I’m able to catch a glimpse of all the flesh inside. The Toronto-based photographer was invited by the gallery in February to present a new collection of his trademark male nudes. But when it came time to actually hang the show, controversy erupted.
“It was a condition of showing the work that they paper over the windows so people couldn’t see inside,” Bogdanovic says later, over a beer. “It actually serves as a bit of a tease for the public, which I like. But when they invite a queer artist to present a show, understanding the work I do, I would have expected them to be a bit more tolerant. I think they thought I would produce a collection of tasteful nudes. But my work isn’t very tasteful. It’s very graphic and sexually explicit.”
“There was an issue with some of the photos with cum-shots and bondage that ended up being rejected,” he adds. “They also felt the colour photos were too pornographic, which is why the whole show is in black and white. I might have to do another show with all the rejected images.”
As for the work viewers will actually see, Bogdanovic has assembled a collection of edgy shots, featuring plenty of full-frontal and a handful of erections. While male nudes often fall into the realm of the softly lit muscle shots that tend to hang above gay men’s toilets, Bogdanovic offers an alternative depiction of the male form. Though his models have decidedly hot bodies, there is little softness or tenderness to the images.
“I’m interested in the power of sexuality that every man carries, regardless of his orientation,” he says. “I want to reverse the relationship between the viewer and the model that is typical in nude photography, making the subject more dominant and placing the viewer in the submissive position, creating a greater tension.”
“I find eye contact the most erotic element,” he adds. “That tension is way more sexual and interesting than just a beautiful body or an erection.”
Hot bodies aside, Bogdanovic has specific things he looks for in a model. “I want to shoot men who are proud of who they are sexually and in control of their bodies,” he says. “Most of the guys I shoot are not professional models. I like guys who are athletic and actually enjoy sports and fitness, rather than just working out so they can show it off at the club.”
The Sarajevo ex-pat has steadily gained a reputation for his unique brand of erotica since he came to Toronto from Sarajevo via Guelph six years ago. He shoots regularly for fab and Australia’s DNA magazine, as well as numerous online publications. His work has been featured at the Contact Photography Festival as well the now defunct Grasp Erotica bar. Internationally, his work has shown in the US, Asia and his homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Beyond a simple love of the male form, Bogdanovic has a decidedly political bent to his work.
“It’s very important as queer artists to show our sexuality,” he says. “We are increasingly finding social and legal acceptance for our identities, but it is still important to show/flaunt our sexuality as different from the mainstream. Sexuality is something that we enjoy, hopefully on a daily basis. We need to be able to express that.”
Naked Man Staring at You
Black-and-white photographs by Drasko Bogdanovic
Tues, April 5-Sun, April 24
Opening reception: Saturday, April 9, 7pm
Hang Man Gallery
756 Queen St E