For the next 17 years, I worked primarily as a storyboard artist and production illustrator for the top tier Music Video and Commercial directors of the time. In 2000, I purchased one of the first digital camera on the market, a 2.3 megapixel Nikon Coolpix 990 for a whopping 1K! Having the possibility to plug and see your photos instantly was a revolution and allowed for an inexpensive learning curve compared to having to develop film. I had been working in Photoshop since 1994, and was very familiar with the “Digital Darkroom”. Many friends who were pro photog were dismissive, and as the history of the last decade showed, also dead wrong.
During that time, the Book LA, was the first trendsetting magazine to go online, and its publisher Patrick Kahn and I started taking photos at parties, art openings, and concerts. People could see the galleries within 24 hours. This was in the pre Wire Image era and the media sharing of Web 2.0. People went nuts, traffic exploded, and I quickly made a name for myself. My focus became mostly music related subjects, and I became the magazine’s music editor until for the next 7 years, until the field became way too crowded. During that time, I also freelanced for most leading music magazines in the US and abroad, and shot numerous covers, publicity packages and campaigns for some of the artists I covered. The party came to a crashing halt due to the global economic downturn of late 2008.
Explain what The Red Chair is & how it got started?
The Red Chair was part of a furniture set purchased from interior designer Bobby Trendy in 2000. The chair itself was a reject gathering dust in the back of his showroom. Soon thereafter, I was assigned my first editorial piece for the Book LA to illustrate an article titled “International Lovers”, an exposé on the cultural differences between countries on the topic of sex and love. I shot mostly attractive friends of various ethnic backgrounds to create a sexy patchwork, and the rich purple and red of the furniture complemented the skin tones beautifully. The article was well received, so much so that anyone I knew that I had not had the time to shoot, and then their friends, and the friends of their friends, all wanted to be photographed as well. The assignment simply kept on going for 10 years past its deadline.
Tell us about the site, the blog & your other web presence.
By 2005, realizing that a sexy girl was going to bring way more traffic to my corner of the web than say, a famous DJ, I created an informal gallery simply called “the Red Chair”.
Because my work was displayed on Pbase.com, one of the first picture hosting websites which also operates as a network, a strong following took root and the name spread quickly. Social Networking started that year too, first with Friendster, then Myspace, and the Tilla Tequila culture turned everyone into either voyeurs or exhibitionists, self promotion and attention whoring became a way of life in cyberspace. The Red Chair was a free online gallery populated by everyday women allowing themselves to be admired in a manner that was reserved to the glossy magazine elite, its notoriety growing by word of mouth without a single effort put towards its promotion, 100% organically grown.
After joining Model Mayhem in 2006, the Red Chair went into high gear and became a destination for many touring models who passed through LA., and over a dozen talented make up artists contributed their amazing skills to the project.
By 2008, the Pbase galleries were being viewed by over a million visitor each month.
By 2009, the global economy took a nose dive, my freelance clients vanished one by one and the 8K a year necessary to run the project had to come from somewhere else. With traffic and branding firmly established, the next logical step was to create a membership site, which launched in May that year. Sadly, everything that was shot “for fun” with friends over the years had to go. On the upside, all the content that was too explicit for Pbase now had a home and the red Chair could finally be shown in all its erotic glory!
How do you balance video with stills, and do you feel still have much relevance in the video age?
Stills are not as relevant if you are running an adult site where you MUST have videos. But they are two completely different medium. One iconic image frozen in time can be embedded in your memory, while a video, because it is perceived through other senses as well, leaves an overall impression. Even when an accomplished photographer becomes a director, like David LaChapelle for example, he has to extract what makes his style unique and translate it into motion, which is not always successful because video obeys a completely different set of rules, and encompasses other media, like music. I personally find watching mainstream porn a very boring experience.
What really got me hooked is a video a friend sent me, She put her Sony camcoder on a tripod off to the side behind her as she laid on her bed and proceeded to get herself off until she reached the most resounding climax, then collapsed, her heaving filling the silence of the room. My reaction was “Fuck!!!!! I need to get on that ASAP!” Compared to producers like X-art and Errotica Archives who produce beautiful, inspiring work, I have been completely under equipped up until now. At last, I finally got my hands on a Full HD DSLR. There is nothing more frustrating then having lofty artistic ambitions and not have the means to realize them. The Red Chair is a lot like an indie band on tour playing its heart out to a core audience of dedicated fans, knowing CD sales suck and shaking their pocket to find enough change for a beer. Speaking of, bands, not beer, Many of the music peeps I befriended over the years have let me use their tunes in the videos. At least you will always hear music by world class recording artist like Carmen Rizzo. Hopefully the video production quality will finally catch up with their artistry.
What, in your opinion, are the differences between art, fetish, and porn?
That’s a matter of culture, labeling and personal opinion. The way I look at it, it’s a little like comparing a cheeseburger to a filet mignon. Both are meat, inspire equal disgust in vegans, and only a connoisseur with real appetite will appreciate the nuances.
How much of your content is informed by your own personal fantasies/fetishes VS. your members?
You have to do what you love, do it with passion, always strive to better yourself and hope that your work finds an audience. There is a reason why most sites have the same generic look. If you cater to a the common denominator to reach a mass audience, what you do becomes an unremarkable product. The best advice I ever received was: “if it becomes only about vaginas and no longer about art, you might as well be an OBGYN.” Ultimately, the content is informed by the fantasies and fetishes of the participants. I provide the canvas, they bring the paint. Before each shoot, a survey is sent to determine one’s comfort level, which is the most important aspect of an erotic shoot, but also to script everything that will happen during the shoot, no matter how tame or hardcore.
How do you find models, especially given the nature of the project?
You mean the “sexual” nature of the project? Isn’t sex part of life? With the exception of sites that censor nudity for fear of losing advertising dollars, it’s a big, freaky, naked world out there in cyberspace, and the desire to see or be seen is its primary driving force. I don’t think of the people in front of my camera as models, but people having an experience that they entrust me to capture in a way that will inspire desire in others. The resulting photos and videos are the document of that experience. This is much more about lifestyle than just photography. There is no exchange of money except for make up artists and to cover various expenses. Almost everyone I have photographed came to the project because they saw photos somewhere and felt a pull, an attraction, and came to be in the Red Chair out of passion and desire. Odette (http://www.modelinsider.com/6788), one of the Red Chair’s most popular model, expressed it best on her blog:
“There is a mysteriously carnal place on a quiet street in West Hollywood. There is a place where a voluptuously scarlet piece of furniture draws you into a sensual, libido-driven dimension. There is a place where the only modus operandi is pure, erotic exhibitionism.
But wait. I can sense that there are skeptics among us, and to you individuals I say: The Red Chair environment may sound like a bunch of sensationalist mumbo-jumbo to those of you who have never graced the furniture with your presence. Let me assure you, the Red Chair has certainly earned every word I write here.
It is as if the chair is a living entity, pulsating a sexual energy that is contagious. However, this disease is one that, deep down, everyone should be infected with--if only for the duration of this rendezvous. Once on the chair, uninhibited, I was able to connect with my body, mind, soul, and to feel this energy channeling between each erotic zone. How can I even sum it up? It was a mind-blowingly hot shoot. It was pleasure. It was misbehavior. It was THE RED CHAIR.”
For me, it’s a work in progress, and having met stunning beauties from almost every state, it most certainly beats dating in LA.