“CRUISING”: Lust in The Great Outdoors!
Before Grindr… Before Manhunt… In fact, before the concept of the Internet even came into our consciousness, there was reliable, old-school style cruising. Of course, hot-to-trot guys seeking each other out for some bona fide man-to-man fun is nothing new. Through the years, however, the “the art of cruising“, shall we say, has evolved. A while back, the only option was to meet up face to face. It was all about adult bookstores, bars, and Liza concerts. And, of course, there was cruising in public places: Parks. Rest stops. Roadside wooded groves. For many guys, satisfying their carnal desires “right out there in the open” only heightened the excitement of the fulfillment of forbidden desires.
That’s the mood established in “Cruising”, the new book by award-winning photographer Chad States. States’ lush photography focuses on the beauty of the great outdoors: the light and shadows of the woods, the grandeur of the blue sky, the colors of autumn that only nature could create, and more. Amidst this, there’s a titillating tease of man-to-man action in the photos. In the style of the best of erotica, States’ photos merely hint at the sexual situations, leaving much of what’s going on to the lucky viewer‘s fantasies. States is truly a gifted artist, but “Cruising” is not solely a collection of photography. The book gets a real boost from writer Gordon Brent Ingram, Ph.D. In his piece “Cruising on the Margins”, Ingram offers some provocative thought about both States’ artistic vision as well as the history and politics of gay male cruising in general. An example: “In the digital hookup, gay.com-cum-Facebook era, outdoor areas may be strategic for two very different groups: those who do not have as much access to digital technologies (or in their preferred languages), and those who are so ‘connected‘ that visceral, physical contact as an introduction is the most scarce element of social intercourse. In ‘Cruising‘, Chad States explores the spaces of intimacy and distance played out with men’s bodies across the landscape. There may be distance and temporariness in the contact, but these recorded instances of intimacy are far more tangible than marriage vows.“ Ingram’s writings are a must-read for anyone who is seriously interested in the dynamics and history of gay male sexuality. In addition, the reader gets a real treat with the segment “Chad States in Conversation with Alec Soth”, where States chats with fellow photographer and publisher Soth. It’s both insightful and fun, with a special shout-out to a certain disgraced U.S. Senator!
Chad States, who resides in Philadelphia, spoke with me about his new book, which enjoyed a release party at the famous powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn earlier this month:
JR: Hi Chad. Congratulations on the new book! So, where did the idea for “Cruising” come from?
CS: In the summer, I live in Rehoboth Beach, and a park near my house became a cruising destination over the course of a summer about 4 years ago. I used to cruise all the time as a teenager and into my early twenties, and knew the signs. I became curious about the idea of how cruising spaces originate, since it is all about anonymity and disconnect. So, as I watched the park become more and more popular, I started to think that I wanted to make a project out of it.
JR: How long did it take you to see your project come to life? In other words, how long was your journey from the idea to create “Cruising” to actually having the book in your hands?
CS: It took about four years from start to finish. The first two years were really me trying to figure out how to make the photographs. For a long time, I just sat on the periphery looking in. It took me awhile to figure out to get into the woods and make the images that I really wanted to make… and then the project really took off. I started playing around with the idea of presenting the images in book form early on. Then it was really about trying to find a publisher– and I was very lucky that powerHouse contacted me about publishing the work.
JR: That’s great! As a self-published author, what was the most difficult challenge along the way?
CS: I have never worked with a publisher before, so dealing with another person’s input was difficult at first. Though, in the end, the collaboration between me and the publisher made the book better. But at first, there is this feeling of potentially losing control of the work through making compromises. But compromising can be the best thing for the work. As an artist, you can be so tightly closed down on what needs to happen… but differing input can really open up new ideas, which is always for the best.
JR: How true. Now, years ago, before the advent of the Internet and apps like Grindr and Scruff, guys actually had to go to bars, bookstores, or places like Rambles in Central Park to hook up. Do you think that eventually, we’re gonna get sick of using our computers and I-Phones, and eventually go back to “old school cruising”?
CS: I hope so! Sex is so much about chemistry, and that chemistry is lost in a virtual setting. Virtual cruising is just lazy cruising. I stare at a computer enough as it is. I want to get out of the house… and if there is one reason to leave the house, sex is definitely it!
JR: I couldn’t agree more! I must say, the photography in “Cruising” is really breathtaking. It really captures the beauty of the great outdoors. (Something as a New York City guy, I rarely get to see, sadly…) Do you consider yourself an “outdoors guy”?
CS: The beauty of the woods is the best part about cruising in a park, because if you don’t get your dick sucked, at least you can enjoy the natural setting… and that can’t be said for Manhunt. I don’t know if I would call myself an “outdoors guy”, but I do love it.
JR: Well said! In the photos, there are hints of man-to-man action, but it‘s very, shall we say, “artfully” done. Was there any kind of difficulty for you in deciding how much, ahem, “skin” to show in your photos?
CS: I want there to be enough skin so that you know what is happening, but without pulling the veil away. The obscuring of figures with foliage heightens the voyeuristic quality of the images, and keeps people anonymous.
JR: I understand! What was the most memorable anecdote about the making of the book?
CS: I met and became friends with another photographer named Adrain Chesser, who makes really good work, while photographing in the woods. And I love the idea that potential for sex and friendship/relationship exist in these spaces.
JR: Do you have a particularly memorable cruising story yourself?
CS: When I was 16, a much older man picked me up in a park. He was so old he was impotent, so I just happily grinded against him until I came. I was so young and hungry for experience with other men that it was very satisfying.
JR: (Laughs) So, Chad, what’s your next project?
CS: A series of portraits. It is a bit hard to succinctly describe. But the portraits are coming out of thoughts I had while making the “Cruising” images. While I was photographing for “Cruising”, I would use myself and my body to entice and instigate situations so that I could make the photographs. I am doing basically the same thing in this series of portraits, except the interaction is much more direct and my hand as the creator of the image is at the forefront.
JR: Lastly, I have to ask you (Just for fun!)… When doing a Google search of your book, inevitably that controversial 1980 movie “Cruising” with Al Pacino will pop up. Has anybody ever asked you if your book has any relation to that film?
CS: Not yet, though I just re-watched that movie a couple of months ago and lamented that gay bars don’t seem as exciting anymore.
Now, that’s a man after my own heart! You can see a sneak preview of “Cruising” and buy the book at http://www.powerhousebooks.com/site/?p=7374. States’ artwork from the book will be on exhibition at the powerHouse Arena (37 Main Street, Brooklyn) until Sunday, December 4th.
Keep on “Cruising“!