The tattooed men in Rhys’ life

 

CoverPHOTOS BY COLIN RIGLEY

On Monday, December 15, the majority of the writers I work with gathered in our basement office at 5 p.m. when we were supposed to be leaving for home. They snuck in one by one trying to be clandestine and failing utterly. We blindfolded Rhys (one of our news writers) and while he sat in his chair theorizing
Rhys Party_19 Rhys Party_16 Rhys Party_1about where he was going and worrying over what he would need to bring with him on this unknown adventure, we snuck to the bathroom and applied fake tattoos of Rhys’ face.

Most everyone opted for the arm or hand, but I’m pretty hardcore about these nonsensical projects so I applied my Rhys tattoo to my cheek. I’m told I’ll have to scrub it with nail polish remover to remove it, and I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Worst case scenario, I’m just going to go through life with Rhys’ face on my cheek. It’s awkward but I’m sure I’ll eventually discover some means of explaining it that doesn’t sound completely ludicrous.

Rhys requested that Colin lead him but Colin refused so Rhys requested our intern Cliff. But Cliff seemed either confused or uncomfortable about his role and made Rhys hold one end of the copy of The Catcher Rhys Party_29 Rhys Party_33in the Rye that Cliff had brought with him to the party while Cliff led him clutching the other end. We avoided the stairs which Rhys certainly would have fallen on by taking the rickety elevator that I usually never go near. Then we led him into the pouring rain. (Those of you who don’t live on California’s Central Coast where a drizzle is practically unheard of might not consider it a pouring rain, but it was to us.)

Fortunately, we only had to travel around the corner to arrive at our indoor destination. But Rhys didn’t know that and proceeded awkwardly in a huddled crouch while our other intern, Adriana, held an umbrella over his head. We walked into Firestone this way, and were met with a number of confused and amused stares from our fellow patrons.

We allowed Rhys to remove his blindfold and explained that we were generously volunteering to watch an Rhys Party_43 Rhys Party_40 Rhys Party_10NFL game with him–we’re notoriously anti professional sports in editorial, except for Rhys who adores them and can never find anyone to chat with about them. He pretty quickly noticed the tattoo of his face on my cheek and freaked out about that for a little while before everyone else proudly or reluctantly pulled back their sleeves to reveal their own tattoos.

It took everyone about half an hour to order and receive their food, but once the last of the stragglers had finally arrived I pulled the wrapped package from my bag. Everyone gathered in a tighter cluster around the table; we’d all been wondering for months how he was going to react to this present and finally the day had come and we would know for certain.

Because of the way he unwrapped the present, he wound up with the back side facing him first. So he knew it was a calendar before he knew what sort of calendar he was dealing with. Then he turned to the front and finally got the headline: “The tattooed men of Rhys’ life.” Still, he didn’t fully understand what Rhys Party_76 Rhys Party_74 Rhys Party_72 Rhys Party_70 Rhys Party_65 Rhys Party_62 Rhys Party_60 Rhys Party_57he was in for. Not until he turned the first page and discovered a photo of his colleague with a banana stuffed down his pants and the words “Banana club” printed across his chest. But that’s for a future post.

I’ve been wanting to write about this project for the last six months and now that Rhys’ birthday (or the day we chose to celebrate it, at least) has finally passed—he turns twenty-three on Dec. 16—I can finally discuss the surprise pin-up calendar we made for him.

At this point, you probably have a few questions: Who the hell is Rhys? What kind of sane person makes a pin-up calendar for their colleague? What’s all this nonsense about “tattooed men”?

Rhys is a staff writer at the newspaper I work for. He’s been working at New Times for about a year and a half and is infamous within the editorial department for his penchant for making awkward comments, bizarre confessions, and terrible puns. Several months before we started the calendar, we were having a seemingly normal conversation when I asked him if he knew someone. He replied, “Of course, he’s one of the tattooed men in my life.”

That statement pretty much halted all conversation in the newsroom. One of the tattooed men in his life? Is that how he thinks of people? What did it even mean?

In a normal office, a remark like that might get you pegged as the weird guy for awhile and then everyone would likely forget all about it. But when you work for a place like New Times under a nutjob manager like myself, you can’t make a comment like that without receiving a surprise pin-up calendar on your birthday.

Our approach to the calendar was simple: One model per month. Rhys had to know the models, although after number nine or 10 we started to get a little looser with our definition of the word “know.” The models had to be tattooed, although again, in one case we made a slight exception for the sake of an inside joke. And we would try to use as many men as possible, but we would include tattooed women that Rhys knew if they were willing to wear mustaches in their shoot.

Colin would photograph. I would serve as art director. What could possibly go wrong?

For starters, twelve photoshoots is actually kind of a lot, especially when the actual total counting the cover was thirteen. The fact that most of the participants were our coworkers and we were trying to keep it all a secret from Rhys made everything that much more difficult to coordinate. And that doesn’t even take into account the unique hardships of each individual shoot.

Because I spent six months working on this project, I’m reluctant to just dump all the stories and photos in a single post all at once. I want viewers to savor each image, to delve into the full awkward implications of the fact that we were all coworkers working together to take these shots. Instead, I’ll post a single image every day, along with the story of where the concept came from, and what it was like on set taking the photos.

Today, I’ll start with our first shoot, Mr. October : Ryan Miller, father, husband, executive editor of New Times.

Ryan’s was the first shoot in the series, scheduled mere weeks after he got his tattoo. I suppose I should provide the story of his tattoo as well since we are talking about The Tattooed Men in Rhys’ Life as opposed to The Bearded Men in Rhys’ Life or Tall Men in Rhys’ Life.

Ryan and his wife Sarah got tattoos from Jillian Wefald of Traditional Tattoo in SLO—the same artist who did sleeve work for Colin and I this past summer. Ryan got a quill pen on his forearm and Sarah got an inkwell on the back of her neck. (Yes, they understand there are wink wink implications to their choice of tattoo; in fact, that was part of the allure).

We decided on a sexy librarian theme for Ryan’s shoot, since he adores books, practically lives at the library, and the notion of the sexy librarian was a handy pin-up cliché that would be almost immediately recognizable with practically no effort on our parts.

When you’re working on a large photo series—or really, a substantial project of any nature—it’s important to get off on the right foot. If the first photo shoot was a disaster, it would be difficult to motivate ourselves to throw our enthusiasm into the next twelve. In fact, a bad beginning can ruin a project that’s not mandatory. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point in shouldering on?

There were several practical reasons to start the series with Ryan’s shoot. We knew it would be relatively easy to schedule with him, despite the fact that he’s constantly juggling about a million commitments. We knew that the library would be an easy shoot to schedule because we know a few of the librarians, and basically as long as we did our shoot during normal hours and refrained from harassing any of the patrons, no one minded that we were there. But mostly, Ryan is a total ham. Unlike a handful of the other participants, he would enjoy being photographed and that enjoyment would translate into a much more comfortable shoot.

So, on a Saturday morning in late July the three of us met up at the San Luis Obispo City-County Library. Ryan looked like a German schoolboy wearing shorts and suspenders with a pink shirt. And Colin and I were carrying a small load of photography equipment—stands, flashes, the camera itself, umbrellas, and reflectors.

We made our way to the second level of the library, to the very back of the stacks where we figured we were unlikely to disrupt the normal patrons.

The shoot itself went really well, although there was plenty of joking among the three of us over the strangeness of what were doing. The fact that our boss was cavorting in the library in faux provocative poses, biting his lip and making petulant expressions at the camera—which was Colin—was enormously funny to us all. At one point, Colin’s voice cracked as he had to ask Ryan to arch his back. The concept shifted from sexy librarian to pouty schoolboy who needs help reaching for a book.

That was the point I decided each photo needed a caption—assuming it would be possible to print the calendar with the added text. The caption for Ryan’s would read, “If only there was a big, tall Rhys here to help me reach this book.”

Despite the fact that we got usable photos from the first pose, we moved on to several more. Ryan went from standing to crouching to sitting as we struggled to balance facial expressions, making sure we got a clear shot of the tattoo, and keeping everything in focus as his position changed.

It might sound strange that we continued shooting for a good half hour after taking what were very likely useable shots from the first pose, but it’s an approach we took with each subsequent shoot and there are three very good reasons for this:

  1. A photo might look good on the small camera screen, but until you take them all home and zoom in on the entire shot, you don’t really know what you’re looking at. The face might be a little out of focus. The expression might be weird. There might be something strange going on in the background that you failed to notice in the initial photos. A simple solution to this might be for the photographer to stop after each round and take the time to zoom in on the photos to make sure they’re good, but if you do this the model is going to want to see the photo. And, as Colin has taught me, you don’t want to let the model see the photo until they’ve been processed and you have several different options to show. Otherwise, they’re not going to like their face in a single photo and all hell will break loose. Trust me on this point: I was one of the models.
  2. There’s a greater degree of pressure until you finally get a useable shot. After that, everyone loosens up and becomes more playful, more willing to experiment with poses and facial expressions, and that’s often when you get your best work.
  3. It’s all about options. Sure, you might have a useable shot that you like after ten minutes of shooting, but if you keep pushing, you might wind up with useable photos that you absolutely love. This approach helps later when you’re looking at the project as a whole because you might realize two poses are a little too similar and need a good backup for one of the photos.

Ultimately, we wound up with so many great options that we had a hard time choosing and found ourselves in the delightful position of getting to be really picky about which photo had the best facial expression, best pose, best showcased the tattoo.

We were off. And the world of male pin-up modeling would never be the same.

September

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  1. […] the pity. In fact, Trever doesn’t have any tattoos at all and yes, the basic premise behind the calendar was that it would be a playful and erotic display of the tattooed men in Rhys’ life. But we’d […]

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