The Models of Bondi Classic by Paul Freeman

While putting together this book, religious art images from my childhood kept coming to mind.

One was from an illustrated kids Bible, of the conversion of the Roman soldier Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul was depicted in grand renaissance style, pinned to the ground by a blinding light from Heaven in cathartic revelation.

Another was a holy picture awarded to me by Sister Borgia for neat handwriting. Again painted with dramatic classicism, it was of Saint Sebastian, his physique barely clad in a loincloth, tied to a stake, being shot with arrows by cherubic angels. I was confused by the picture at the time because it seemed to exemplify the very eroticism that I was being furiously taught was immensely sinful. Somehow I must have reconciled the paradox because I looked at the picture a lot.

When I was preparing for my first communion I’d been fascinated by Caravaggio’s ‘Flagellation Of Christ’ on the wall of the local priest’s presbytery. I even memorised the artist’s name, but knew nothing of his own debauchery and sin for years.

I had been exposed to the work of the Humanists of the Renaissance. On canvas and in sculpture, these artists showed man for the first time as the centre of a romanticized holy universe, struggling bravely through revelations towards enlightenment. They painted erotic tableaus, the Sistine soap operas of their day. And importantly for me, they idealized the hero as a Herculean man of almost feminine sensuality, and vulnerability.

Thankfully, centuries later, their work made it to Australia, albeit as a rather incongruous element of an otherwise austere Irish catholic tradition, and became a seminal influence in the life of an impressionable boy.

Inspired , once I spent twenty years or so confronting some of the more destructive  effects of religion, I began photographing the male nude. Respectfully. I was eventually impressed by less sanctified forms of classicism in the photography of Leni Riefenstahl, Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts.  I still unconsciously styled shots from within respectful parameters, with subjects in my mind  reflecting a holy epic or an historic tableau. Creating a story helped me engage the subject and depict their beauty as something more emotive than self-conscious physicality, something heroic according to an aesthetic shaped by Irish Catholicism and my own inclinations.

My subjects are in the main inexperienced as models. They are sportsmen or actors or just extraordinary men in one way or another sometimes challenging their own fears by being photographed, as part of their quest for various personal goals.  In the process, their commitment and unaffectedness played a large part in creating these holy stories and in one way or another they too became their heroic selves. 

Paul Freeman