Over the past decade, photographer Josh Paul Thomas has focused on the male nude, working across various mediums: video, drawing, painting, performance, photography. At first sight his work appears almost sneaky, but there’s an underlying concept of voyeurism at work.
In his show Reintentions, currently on exhibit at the Museum as Retail Space (MaRS) in Los Angelesthrough Feb. 24, Thomas shares photos, drawings, painting and videos of some deliciously voyeurism-inspiring work. Says the museum of Reintentions, “Through the medium of cock, Thomas tempts the exploration of true liberation from power and judgement for participant and observer.”
Thomas’s work has been featured in a wide range of publications, including Vogue, Interview magazine and Physique Pictorial, and he’s had the opportunity to shoot vibrant personalities including Joe Dallesandro, Tony Ward, and Pamela Anderson.
We chat with Josh Paul Thomas about his first solo exhibit, the making of this Reintentions series, dropping trou himself while photographing his subjects and the theme of voyeurism that runs through his work.
HORNET: How’d you get started taking these photographs?
JOSH PAUL THOMAS: I was an art director for years and was getting sick of setting up photos for photographers who would take all the credit for my hard work. So I bought a camera and started taking my own pictures. They weren’t commercial photos, as I had been working in that for some time. They were my private works — boys, muscles and weird things. Later it turned into a voyeuristic adventure.
Were the guys in these photos shy around your camera? How did you get them to be comfortable with you taking their picture?
The photos on view at MaRS Gallery is a series that I had done while visiting a nude beach for the first time. So as all the subjects — most of whom I had met only an hour prior — were naked, so was I. It was the icebreaker that allowed me free reign over the beach that day. Because I was exposed, everyone else felt OK with me shooting them exposed.
This exhibit doesn’t shy away from showcasing the male body in all its glory. Why do you think you’re so willing to explore it?
It’s been my obsession since I was a young boy, hiding in the closet. I grew up in a very religious home in northern California and later Montana. I always wanted to take photos of nude men and boys, at the time it was such a taboo thing so expanding upon that was my mission.
Tell me more about the exhibitionism / voyeurism aspect of the photos in Reintentions?
All the images were shot over a weekend in San Diego in 2016. It was my first time at a nude beach, which was so liberating for me. I think the beauty of my newfound freedom really comes across. It’s very innocent and happy, but also very engaged and focused on the men and their cocks.
Speaking of exhibitionism, your work is flagged and removed from Instagram quite often. Do you think that’s because people are afraid or offended by male nudity?
I think it’s less fear of nudity and more a hateful bitterness some people choose to express by censoring and flagging. It’s so easy for someone to ruin your art on Instagram by having it removed. It’s their small amount of power over your work. Instead of engaging positively, I think they use others’ accounts as their emotional punching bags by flagging something they ultimately like but want removed for weird personal inferiority issues. I don’t engage in that type of behavior, so I can only guess why those sad people want to ruin gay art on Instagram. I try not to think about it because it’s too sad.
You like including yourself in the erotic narrative of your work. What role does your sexuality and sex play in your life and work?
Master and Slave of course, as we all do. It’s all about control or the lack of. – Switching from role to role. I’m a slave to the content, but a master of my lens. I choose what to shoot, but I can’t help but shoot it because I’m under its control, a lot like sex.
Do you think of your work as queer art?
I hope its considered queer art photography, as that’s all I’m interested in shooting currently. I think my work, like anyone’s, is open to interpretation. I would describe it as a small piece of myself, exposed for all to see. I want people to enjoy looking at my photography — a pleasant, uplifting feeling that warms you all over and maybe makes you think about the underlining obsession or sly humor hidden deep beneath.
We’ve recently seen allegations of sexual misconduct against big-name photographers. Given the nature of your work, how do you go about consent?
I hate getting my photo taken, so I’m pretty sensitive to that feeling in others. If it’s not working or if it starts feeling weird, I’m not into it. Just like during sex, if someone isn’t hard, or excited, I usually peace out. Raping someone with your lens is not the look and not my thing.
Check out more images of sexy voyeurism from the new Josh Paul Thomas exhibit Reintention: