The Models of Bondi Road by Paul Freeman

“Bondi Road came together as a rather disparate collection of shoots I had done over a 12 month period following the publication of Bondi Work. The models I had photographed that year all displayed traits of that independent adventurous ‘larrikin’ personality I find so alluring. Why? Because I envy their freedom of thought and independence of action, so less constrained by convention than when I was their age, and therefore I think more mature and masculine.

For me, masculinity has come to be about traits very different to what we conventionally define as manly, like strength. In fact I would go so far as to say that masculinity is about the courage to exhibit weakness freely, to admit to emotional vulnerability and to express doubt and uncertainty. One of the saving graces of this age we live in for me is knowing that this strong individuality is being bred and well parented out there, and having the opportunity to eulogise this kind of inner beauty and strength through my portraits. I sometimes wonder whether I am trying to capture some of their spirit by way of the camera. Certainly I think that, apart from their obvious physical beauty what makes their portraits captivating for me is that thing that emanates from each of them at some point in the shoot, some point when they are both relaxed and focused on the process of co-operation with me. There are four or so strong traits in the models in this book that separate them from the models of another similar collection such as urban.

Rocco the long haired model with the neo classical Italianate features, was living in a crowded dorm style communal flat in north bondi, where I photographed him.  When we met he had just come out of the surf at bondi and was talking to a girl friend in the setting sun on the walkway along the back of the beach where people run, walk exercise or just hang out in the early evening at bondi in summer. The sun was catching him in the back and creating a luminous halo around him as he smiled and gestured and spoke: he exuded grace and poise and above all a kindness and gentleness which he afterward clearly had in bucket loads. When we spoke of my work he was genuinely interested in the process and not just the result, He was at university and had a sister who was a budding photographer and he discussed the whole concept with a graciousness and willingness to embrace it. He became acquainted with my work and we did 2 photo shoots each only about an hour and using just his home environment and natural light.

Rocco has something of the new age hippie about him, gentle and intelligent, kind and self exploratory he was very relaxed in front of the camera. When I suggested doing some nudes he was receptive and un-phased, and unabashed. He simply took everything in his stride as if he had posed a million times before. He is one of those very rare unselfconscious naturals. He is therefore languid and so beautiful in his poise and grace that he doesn’t take a bad shot. His neo classic profile and beauty helped of course but I think there is magic there in the images that comes from much more of a soulful depth.

Andrew is the musician with the auburn hair. I met his family in the process of arranging his shoot-his mum is a high flying professional, as is his dad. He comes from a large beachside home in an expensive suburb, but once again, with an important difference. His family seemed to be social, intelligent and thoughtful, which enables Andrew to grow up adventurous and individual, but loved. I’ve noticed a lot in the people I’m drawn to shoot, that they often come from a place of unconditional love that enables them to take risks and to try different things in life without fear. Andrew was making a CD of his music, was performing in fringe theatre plays and pushing an acting career. He was also gregarious and popular, a person in a group who others would gravitate to . He had a light on and once again, was for that reason easy to shoot. He was ready to explore options and unafraid of his physicality.

The man on the cover, like the others, but more so, was the big soft romantic. On the day of our second shoot he was fragile all day because he was sprung by his current partner in a brief liaison with someone else, and he was in fear that he had lost someone he genuinely loved, all for a drunken moment of passion. We were discussing it all day. I was trying to reassure him that if the love was genuine there would be forgiveness and understanding. I was pretty aghast that this guy who exuded such confident and strong sensuality in everything he did and said, could be so distraught at such a minor misdemeanour, in this day and age. Yet he was virtually heartbroken, and a couple of times close to tears. However, he had a very strong sense of his sensual self and in front of the camera and with direction he focused and gave 100 percent. He was again someone that the camera loved and who reciprocated the feeling. He moved and posed easily and languidly and knew the camera was an audience for him to play to. He addressed it as he would flirt with, and look at, a potential lover, and his physical confidence was astounding even though completely warranted. When I was editing the shoots I did with him, I culled and culled to get down to 200 shots after which it became difficult to discard any more. Each seemed to be a captured moment that drew the viewer strongly in, and I ceased to be able to be objective and relied largely on my editor to help reduce the selection.  And by the struggle the editor was having both with this, and the Rocco shoot, I knew that both these people, in particular, had that something special that makes a photograph a captured moment, that something which for time immemorial has separated out particular subjects in art portraiture for endless amounts of fascination and analysis.

Each of the subjects of this book had, for me, this essence about them, and it is why I find this collection personally so strong. It is very easy to find people who are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, who are defined by anyone’s parameters as good looking, but it is finding those subjects who move beyond that as total people, who most often make the provocative and beautiful portraits. I never know whether it is something about the eyes that gives it away. The eyes can be directed and photographed to look knowing and alluring, but when captured in their unselfconsciousness in people such as this, they reveal so much more that is about that vulnerability, that receptive sensitivity that I mentioned earlier,  and which adds so much more to their physical strength and superficial beauty.

A perfect example of this is the rugby player, James, who is pictured with his surfboard, and on an dilapidated chair in his flat. He has longish hair too, but not as long as Roccos. James came to me by way of a model scout and agency. He had never done nudes before but when I was chatting to him about it over coffee and I said how do you feel about it, his response was something like “I don’t know. I won’t know til I do it. Let’s give it a go”.  When it came to the shoot he was completely matter of fact even though it was a freezing day and for a lot of the shoot I know he was getting cold, as he had no heater in his Bondi flat where we were shooting. Once again James was a man’s man but with such a gentle nature. You know instinctively about him that he is strong and can carry himself in any situation, but he doesn’t feel the need to make an overt display of that fact. He is gently considerate, kind, and again with that almost hippie-like freedom of mind that sets him apart.

You can probably tell from the way I talk about these models how privileged I feel to get to know them and to capture them. There is never anything but an absolutely professional relationship between me and my models,  but in the process of meeting and sharing something together as intimate as a shoot of this kind, there is a bond of camaraderie formed which I guess makes me feel somewhat protective towards my subjects, and at the same time proud of them and of what we have made together. This is, I guess, what I mean by feeling privileged. When someone opens up and allows themselves be vulnerable to you in life, my response is to be flattered by that trust and to want to make them feel that the result warranted them having that trust. I want them to be able to look at their portrait in years to come and realize that that was a worthwhile thing to have had the courage to do, and that they gained something from it even at the time , by crossing a fear threshold with me , by showing the courage to trust. This is what my work has become about more and more because of its very nature. I am constantly living in fear of letting a subject down in some way, that they will be regretful of the experience and I am always somehow surprised when they are more often than not overwhelmed in a good way by what I have made of them. That is my fear threshold which I have to cross, pleasing the subject. Holding a proverbial mirror up to them and hoping they will be glad of what they see.”

- Paul Freeman