Every now and then, I am asked what I do for a living. And I can now answer without hesitation, with a proud and sincere face, that I photograph male nudes. To this answer I usually get — at least for an instant — a surprised look, followed by “So, you’re a photographer?” “Well, yes, among other things.” It took me a long time to embrace my “male nude photographer” identity. After all, up until recently, I was known as a “consultant” or a “project manager.” These are more common and socially accepted identities or titles. I also don’t mingle with other photographers or live in the “Male Nude Photographer Village.” But now, more than ever, I feel content with my place in the world. I feel “in my skin,” liberated, as though I finally have the upper hand over the proverbial cookie cutter. “Do you also photograph female nudes?” is a common follow-up question. Reading between the lines, there appears to be an assumption that as a man I should partake in photographing female nudes. After all, I live in somewhat traditional Slovakia, and not in liberal “anything goes, be who you want to be” New York. Thus, my “logical explanation” is: “No. There are already so many guys who photograph female nudes. It would be really hard to stand out and to make a living that way. So, I specialize in male nudes.” As we pass a bikini ad on a billboard, I continue to say “The world does not need any more convincing that women are beautiful. Just look around. Anywhere. I am trying to level the playing field.” There is a pause, a nod, a momentary sign showing agreement, which quickly turns into a slightly skeptical expression. “And are you really able to make a living from photographing male nudes?” “Well yes. Believe it or not, there is a gap in the market.”
But there is more to it than just spotting a gap in the market. My photography actually started off as (and continues to be) a response to a deep feeling that “something is missing.” In late 2018, when I first showed a prototype of my website to some of my friends and former colleagues, I faced a lot of doubt and skepticism. “Pictures of naked guys? I can easily find that anywhere. And for free.” Back then I found it difficult to quickly explain and justify why my photographs would be unique and special. Not without fear and doubt of my own, I decided to just go with my gut. I held on to my realization that I was rarely able to find the kind of pictures I really liked after years of scouring the web. The pictures I was able to find looked staged, formulaic and inauthentic, or they were lacking in size and quality. From time to time, I found sites that had real naked sportsmen, nudists or those truly spontaneous “magic moments” when the clothes came off. But I usually found these kinds of pictures scattered in small batches in different places, and I often tried and failed to find larger and better-quality versions of the pictures. As the years go by, I also find that the web, while growing in size, is becoming increasingly “sanitized,” and the choice for the kinds of content I like is shrinking. The internet is leaning towards a commercial formula that is very successful in pushing trends and appealing to the majority. But it doesn’t appeal to me, and I know I am not the only one who feels this way.
While trends are moving in a different direction to my liking, I can simply describe my take on photography of male nudes as “guys doing guy things — naked.” A guy is making breakfast. Why not do it naked? A guy is taking his bike out for a spin. Why not do it naked? Guys are out having a drink together. Why not do it naked? A guy is giving a presentation at work. Why not do it naked? The trick is to capture these situations in the most casual, authentic and “hidden camera” manner possible. For me, this is an aspirational direction rather than something I am able to fully achieve today.
Phil Dlab was born in Slovakia but lived most of his life in Canada. For many years he dreamed of returning to Europe until finally making the big move to Bratislava in 2010. In the summer of 2018 he began to photograph friends from the freerunning and street workout scene in Slovakia, and in January 2019 he launched bodytorium.com. Nothing to Hide is his first photo book.