This interview with Franklin was made as he was coming back from his trip to Iceland where he shot some impressive nude self-portraits in a harsh weather. You can see those images in a gallery that is best viewed before and after reading about “who”, “why”, “how” and more!
1. While talking about your images and preparing for this interview it became clear that your background and your current activities matter in terms of understanding what you do and how you do it. Could you talk about your activities and how they influence both your physical conditioning for hard shots – such as the one in Iceland -, your preparations and also your mindset during the shots?
Fantastic question! Most people say that I’m crazy because I subject my vulnerable naked body to extreme weather… But the reality is that I feel every pore when I shoot naked in the cold, and I feel as if I’m going to pass out from the heat… one thing keeps me focused: getting the shot. As a former military member I have learned to face tough challenges: knowing that if I don’t carry my own weight, someone could die or get seriously injured. As a professional Latin dancer, I’m bound to make mistakes on rehearsals and on stage. But what I do when said mistakes are made is what defines me as a performer. These principles come into play in my process: no task is too hard and no mistake will ground me. Instead, I think creatively and flexibly to overcome challenges. As you can imagine being in the armed forces and being a dancer requires a certain level of physical conditioning that comes in handy when shooting in extreme weather, or when the desired location is not easily accessible with motor vehicles or other means. I must always rely on myself to carry gear, set-up and photograph me (the Nude Yorker).
2. Knowing you are a professional photographer, can you share with us just who The Nude Yorker is and how he came to be?
The Nude Yorker used to be a kid with a lot of insecurities… Growing up I was often made fun of because my body was different from others. While in the military was significantly thinner than most men, and as a dancer, I lacked strength. I decided to embrace a more structured fitness plan, just to prove others wrong. Soon I realized that such motives were pointless. I started to become more confident, and thus did not need approval from others. About 3.5 years ago, during a world dance competition, I decided to grab my camera and take a selfie. I was in underwear and loved the sunlight coming through the window… At that point, the Nude Yorker was born ( I just did not know it). I continued to take self-portraits in every hotel I stayed. However, the photos were never published until I opened the Instagram account about 2 years ago.
3. Do you have plans to shoot with other photographers or do you view your images as an integrated process where you’d rather control both ends? Do you believe that allows you more creativity or freedom? Do you ever miss an external observer suggesting things or just changing gear placement, zoom settings etc in order to get different views?
There is something truly special about being my own “model” and photographer: I’m in total control of the process. I decide when, where, what and how long each session will be. I never have to worry if the photographer will pick a bad photo, or if my images will be misused. I never have to worry about legal issues with copyrights, usage, model releases etc… In short, my process grants me complete and total freedom.
From time to time I bring a friend or two to help me with the process, as shooting in cold weather can be dangerous, to avoid risking my health. I set up the camera on a tripod, set the lights (if needed or desired), dial the settings that I want (either artistically or technically), and have the assistant/friend fire the shutter a little faster than my usual process. This process under the law grants me all rights to the images, as my assistants have no creative input. On August 2018 I was doing a shoot using this strategy, and while posing my assistant was trying to be helpful and said: “ok we got the shot”. To which I replied: please continue shooting as my vision could be different from yours. After reviewing the images, I’m glad he kept taking further photos because those are the ones that I selected as successful.
Despite all this, I’m still willing to collaborate with other creators, as either photographer or “model”. However, those images would never make it on my website, nor social media, as they will break away my theme.
Lastly, I do not miss having a 2nd pair of eyes present… I feel more comfortable with myself, and rather enjoy the process. I often fall from poses, hit myself, etc… and I just have a ball laughing at myself…
4. While in 2018, both nudity and art nude photography still remain a taboo subject. What are your thoughts about art nude photography and how do you believe we all can help people understand that art nude is an artistic expression?
I genuinely believe that the human body is the most extraordinary machine on this planet. We as superbly capable of incredible skills and because of this, I feel that it should be immortalized in its most natural state: nude. But it is up to matured and grounded individuals to make the work more pleasing and less sexual. In short, what we lack in nude photography in 2018 is taste.
5. Going back to the very early days of this journey of yours, how did you feel about taking photos of yourself in the nude then sharing them online?
I must be very transparent with this question: Making the call to present yourself naked to the world is no easy task… I debated with myself for weeks, I consulted with trusted friends and even my mom. The general consensus was that my images were not sexual, nor bad in taste. They expressed emotions, stories and a part of me that not many have seen – yet wanted to see. But to tell you the truth, I stopped caring for what others have to say about me, and just worry about what I have to say. This mentality was the catalyst to the launch of the Nude Yorker.
6. Still talking about the “online” aspect, over the last year we have seen your Instagram account grow quite a lot. You have a talent for engaging with people – your texts are well received, people do read them and reply seriously to them.
Is that as important to you as the pictures themselves? Would you change anything if there was no Instagram or social media, maybe back to when we had a slower pace with websites?
If I had to choose, I would prefer for people to pay more attention to the text than to the images… we live in a world where we are subjected to see thousands of photos every day of our lives! On the streets, trains, planes, magazines, television, online etc… We can only remember so much. But an idea, expression, a passage that resonates with us – that we remember. And quite honestly, without Instagram, I do not think I would have come forward with the Nude Yorker. The platform is simple to use, and very effective at capturing someone’s attention, pass the message and carry on.
7. Because just about all your photos were taken on location, whether it be the US, Iceland or Japan, was it your intention from the beginning to photograph yourself in such locations or has it evolved over time?
My initial plan was to photograph myself only in hotels. In fact, if you go through my Instagram feed, the vast majority of photos were taken in hotels across the world. But since my early beginnings in photography, I have always been fascinated with shooting on location. I think that such process brings a 6th element (if you will). One that we can interact with, thus making the images more authentic. After years of taking self-portraits in hotel rooms, I always asked myself “what next?”. I knew I was becoming bored with the same process. To keep things fresh for myself and my viewers, I decided to bring back the love of my life – on-location shooting.
8. Before you embark on a new trip, do you plan and prepare in advance what you will be doing or do you just wait till you are there? Especially thinking about Iceland and the chill factor – how did you cope with that?
The grand majority of my trips are work-related. To some degree, the Nude Yorker gets treated as a secondary priority. I first focus on my main job, and do it exceptionally well. If I have time, and the light in my room/location is great I take advantage and shoot.
Iceland was definitely devoted to the Nude Yorker. The friends that came with me knew 100% what my objective was, and were very accommodating to my plans. I always select core places and looks to shoot, but I also leave room for improvisations. One of those improvisations is dealing with cold temperatures: as you can see in one of my BTS videos, I was trying my best to sound coherent, because I was so cold that I could not speak clearly. You can also see I was in a bit of a hurry, all in effort to cut the time short… just so I could put my clothes back on, lol. Imagine shooting near the ocean with high winds and temperatures in the mid 30’s Fahrenheit (1.5 Celsius).
9. Iceland is such a harsh environment, how do you physically and mentally deal with such low temperatures, wind and basically, exposure to such a harsh environment?
Sometimes I want to think that I’m one of a kind… but the reality is that if we focused we can get anything done… My friends, who were nicely dressed for the cold weather of Iceland, were complaining about being cold, when I was NAKED in front of them!! Can you believe that!!?? The moment I asked them to lose their clothing, suddenly their mentality changed. And this is what I mean… it’s all on your head: tough it out for 5-10 minutes, re-warm up and go at it again.
10. Still thinking about Iceland, how do you manage the constant change in the light conditions?
Great question! I usually set my camera’s intervalometer to take a total of 25-30 photos (one every 5 seconds). Upon completion, I review the images and make the necessary changes depending on my goal. This back and forth happens for about 25-40 minutes, which is my usual session time.
11. We have to thank you for the privilege of seeing part of your editing process while you were editing images. Since you’re using digital cameras, you always have the option of color or BW for the final edit. What are your thoughts about color vs b&w imagery?
Though my answer may sound cliche, I must say that: black and white photographs bring attention to the subject, while color brings attention to the scene and mood. In a hotel I want the audience to look at me, and not the furniture. Conversely, on location, I want people to see the beauty surrounding me, but they can also see the only human presence.
12. How do you want people to see The Nude Yorker: as an artist, photographer, model… ?
I want people to see me as a guy next door, as a human being, full of emotions, wants and desires… as a person who is as flawed as the next one. I don’t consider myself a model, so I want people to see me as a photographer. One that is comfortable both in front and behind the lens. One that is brave enough to play both roles, and to be criticized for it…as I said previously, I want people to engage my messages more than the images. And I want people to share their thoughts.
13. We have been talking to other people doing self-portraiture. Motivations and objectives – as well as restrictions – vary from culture to culture and from men to women, it seems. What would you consider as your main motivation? If there’s a “search” in your efforts, is that for self-expression, for aesthetic ideals, for self-knowledge… ?
My main motivation as the Nude Yorker is to change the mentality that nudity equals pornography. Let me share a little observation as a dancer: when we are part of large productions, we must move fast to change costumes, partners, etc. In the back-stage it is often common to share rooms with the opposite sex. I always see the new dancers trying their best to not be seen naked, or getting undressed, and re-dressed. I find that funny because the last thing anyone is thinking is: am I going to score tonight? No! In fact far from it… we are so focused on getting ready for the next act that our minds simply don’t process nudity that way. If we can do it in one scenario we can also do it on others. I’m also driven by sharing and passing on confidence.
14. Finally, do you have any goals for the future in terms of publications or further project? Where do you see The Nude Yorker in the years to come?
Over the years I have learned that is ok to plan for the future, but to also leave room for surprises (good or bad). As of now, I intend to keep taking self-portraits, and sharing them on social media platforms. I will remain open to collaborating with others, and whatever opportunity that comes my way, I shall evaluate and make a decision. I’m extremely happy that people are taking an interest in my project, and that they show it through numerous means to the world. I may be doing a combined artists exhibit in New York City – I still have no confirmation of this move.
In the meantime I will also continue to populate my website (thenudeyorker.com) since from time to time Instagram removes some of my images.
Through this project I have come to learn so much about myself. How determined and driven I am, how focused and aware of my surroundings I am… but most importantly, I have learned to love my alone time and cherish it whenever I have the chance.