KS: It really depends, I suppose, on how you measure. In grade 5, when I was about 10, I worked on a photography project with a minister’s daughter that, as it should be, has been long-since lost – the project, not the minister’s daughter. In University, I took a photography course with film and a darkroom and everything and created nothing of value. I shot for marks and for my professor who preferred to talk about the meaning of a thing rather than the beauty of a thing. I created a fictional blog in 2004 where I took a photo every day of my fictionally mundane agoraphobic life. But I started taking photos in Cuba and of Cuban men in 2001. Yes, let’s qualify that as the proper start.
MM: What inspires you? The weather of the locale you’re in, your subjects?
KS: I really ought to work more locally, that is, in Toronto. But I like natural light and that works in Toronto about 4 months of the year. And for as much as I try I have to force myself to be inspired at home. What inspires me, principally, is Cuba and Cuban men: oh, the light, the colour, the Caribbean sky, the music, the sheer beat and theater of it.
MM: In all your photographs, I’ve noticed that most of the models are of Latino descent, was that by design?
KS: I photograph what I love, I suppose. And so it is designed as much as sexual predilection is designed. I work a lot in Cuba where there are Cuban men. And when I work in Toronto I have a number of Brazilian-born models that I love to work with.
MM: The colors in your photos are so vibrant and even in B&W they still stand out. What’s do you do to achieve this?
KS: Hmm? It’s interesting. I used to be a painter. In University, as an English Lit and Art student, my focus was on painting. And I didn’t know it but it was pointed out to me that my style, my painting style, which I always thought was some form of photographic representation, was playing with light. I suppose I still do that with photography. Light makes a photograph. Whatever that light is. Light finds, defines, caresses form. Also, I’m, let’s call it fussy, with post-production. Digitally, I work and re-work a photograph until it’s the image I wanted it to be. It’s an interesting discussion here among photographers. An image straight off the film (or digital camera) is truer and purer, no doubt. But I don’t know that we shouldn’t use tools we have to improve and edit an image. I don’t mind Photoshop tricks as long as they’re beautiful images and as long as the illusion is compelling.
MM: When I looked at your series of Jorge and Orly, it inspired me to write a story about them. What do you want viewers of your photos to get from your pictures? Pure enjoyment? Inspired like me?
KS: That series, La Seducción de Jorge Luis, is still a watershed moment for me. The light, the colors, the space were outstanding. And I had such dedicated commitment from my models who had, who have always had, an amazing chemistry. For that session, I wanted to find and show an intimacy and an open and honest eroticism and Jorge Luis and Orly made it rather easy to accomplish. Once I had the space and the light right, I very nearly just let them have at it. In fact Jorge Luis was so eager to push forward, I had to keep slowing him down. That’s the moment, rather than an answer. I’ve had fans and buyers find meaning in images that I have to confess I didn’t intend. And I have learned that it is always futile to say what a thing means or what I want it to mean and always better to let the thing be and speak for itself. Is Orly seducing Jorge Luis? Is Jorge Luis seducing Orly? Are they both seducing me? In the end it doesn’t matter.
MM: What is your favorite place to take photographs?
KS: In general, Cuba. It’s an open theater. A beautiful disaster. I get off the plane and the smell of it comes at me like an old lover. It wakes up my body and my soul and my mind. And I am always inspired. In fact, I find it hard to let a day, an hour go by. I am manic, really, in Cuba. It is clearly flawed but I love it better for its flaws. The labyrinth of old buildings. The strut and open sexuality of the boys and the girls. Easy answer, that one.
MM: Tell me more about your work. What is next on the horizon for Kevin Slack.
KS: I’ve never been able to see my horizon. My perspective is all vanishing points. But I shouldn’t mind too much. I am talking to a couple of publishers about a coffee table book. I hope to have a gallery show soon. I’ve got a cache, a stockpile really, of photos from a recent trip to Havana that I need to work through. And I’ve promised friends and family I won’t go back to Cuba until I’ve finished working through the photos I have. But yes, when I’m all caught up, I think I will go back. Friends, fans, family want to know why I keep going back. There are a number of other-places I would like to go to: Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Prague. But I explain it like this: I always leave Cuba with more ideas than when I got there. Also, Cuba is poised on the point of crisis. Cuba has been waiting for change for over 50 years. And my work in Cuba feels, feels urgent.
MM: The men you photograph. Are they couples? For the exception of the twins of course.
KS: I get all sorts of personal questions about my models which I usually try to avoid answering. For the most part it’s only the image that matters. Also, I try very hard to respect the privacy of my models and friends. But typically, no, the models in my images are not actual couples. One of the things that I adore about Cuban culture is their sexuality. Sexuality, at least it has been my experience, is a lot more fluid, a lot less captured and labeled, than in my own culture. And so many of my models are not explicitly gay, at least not the way we use that word. I find sexuality in Cuba endlessly fascinating and always surprising.
MM: As an author of gay fiction, my work is sometimes shunned because of content. Has that happened to you or is homoerotic photography more accepted?
KS: In the end you do what you need to do, you do what you want to do. It’s a very scary thing, really, to do something personally important and meaningful, and then to make it public. Do a thing because you have to, because you love to, and listen to critics when it is useful. But I have to confess, I have not had too many bad experiences with negative or phobic criticism.
MM: Do you have a favorite author?
KS: Very difficult to say just one. I was an English Lit student as well as Visual Arts. And truthfully I should read more than I do. Although I do still try to read. In no particular order, then: Victor Hugo, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, John Scalzi, Douglas Adams, Jean Genet, William Burroughs. Perhaps less surprising, Walt Whitman. If you’re looking for some dirty realism about Havana, find Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez. I have read that book maybe ten times.
MM: Who are your favorite subjects to take photos of?
KS: Generally, Cuban men. They have a fierce sexuality and a brazen, raw, unapologetic masculinity and an openness too. Give me a Cuban boy or two and a crumbling apartment or a lost garden and a slightly overcast morning and a few hours. Not only my favorite subject to photograph but my favorite way to pass a morning, really.
What an outstanding interview! I love the photos by Kevin and i'm sure if you're one that loves pictures of hot men making love, then you'll love it as well. Please visit his page by clicking this link:
I'll be keeping a page for his photos up top with a link to this interview as well.
I'd like to thank Kevin again for allowing me to post them and be inspired. Please give comments and visit him on his page.
Hope you enjoyed and there will be another great photograph from Kevin 2 weeks from today. Until then...