With so much time at home, many of us have taken up cooking, bingeing our favorite Netflix show, and endless pans of banana bread. One thing many of us probably have not done is get some of the most gorgeous men around in front of our camera lens for new pictorial collection. That is exactly what East Coast photographer Michael Craft did, and he has compiled them all in his latest e-book Thirst Trap. Craft intended to feature men of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, some a little less clothed than others. I caught up with Craft to chat about his brand new e-book, his current and previous projects, and how even in the photography world, subtle discrimination does still exist.
Michael Cook: You created Thirst Trap during the pandemic; explain to me what inspired you to create the collection.
Michael Craft: When Covid hit, I decided it wasn’t a good time to put out Unwrapped (my current project), but still felt a need to be creative. I had accumulated so much work over these last five years and wanted to do an e-book of photos which I couldn’t post on social media because of nudity, but also throw in some of my favorite shots as well. It was so much fun putting it together, since there were some photos I had forgotten about. Having to quarantine gave me a lot of time to go through all of my work and edit a few new things just for Thirst Trap. I was laid off for some time from my regular job, wasn’t able to shoot anything new, but was determined to keep busy and this was the perfect project.
Someone had asked me if I was going to do an OnlyFans page so they could see more of my nude work, but I had felt I may not have enough stuff to keep people’s attention. I thought the e-book would be a better route and am hoping that enough people will download it so I can put that money to help with the printing cost of Unwrapped. I came up with some great ideas to promote the book, like doing Thirst Trap Q&A videos with some of the models from the book. One of the guys, Ricardo actually came up with the initial questions for it and since I’ve added some and took some ideas from old Playboy magazines for questions as well. They can be seen on my Instagram page and I also made up a YouTube channel for people to view them as well. I’ve looked at this project as a combination OnlyFans/Kickstarter that will hopefully help out with Unwrapped.
MC:The men are consistently stunningly gorgeous in your collections, yet always diverse. Why is it consistently crucial to you to ensure that you show that diversity in your collections?
MCRAFT: I had always wanted to show diversity in my photos and in the very beginning of concentrating of shooting males, I found it tough to find certain ethnic models. After some time it’s become a bit easier. I also didn’t know about the prejudice against models of different ethnic backgrounds. I’ve always felt if a guy is good looking, what difference does their background make? I was naive about the fact that people would judge my photography based on them, thinking it was good work and not if they would date them or not. A few years back, I had a paying job to shoot a cover of a book for an author, there were to be two models for the shoot. She had already picked one of the models and asked me to find the other one. I picked a guy I knew who is of Puerto Rican/American Indian descent, who actually looks light skinned African-American. She was concerned at first because books with dark skinned models on the cover tend to sell less, which I hadn’t really known, but she decided we should go ahead and use him. In the end it turned out she got more compliments and comments about that cover than any of her others up to that time.
MC: Have you noticed darker skinned models not getting as much attention consistently?
MCraft: I do notice that sometimes darker skin models will get less likes on Instagram and Facebook when I post them, I find this sad and frustrating, since I think my work is good and shouldn’t be judged on the model’s skin color. So I feel that we, those of us who are self publishing, have the power to show diversity and hope the rest of the world will catch on. It’s important to me that people notice that about my work and I love when I’ve gotten messages from people telling me how much they appreciate the fact that I’m showing diversity.
MC: How do you choose your themes and design aesthetic for your photographic collections.
MCraft: Well it depends, for a while I would base themes on whatever American Horror Story was going to be doing. I did Straight-Jacket (inspired by Asylum and the Joan Crawford film, Straight-Jacket), Freakshow, Hotel and Bloodbath (inspired by 1984 and 80’s slasher flicks). When the short lived TV show Scream Queens was announced it was around the time Ariana Grande had her doughnut licking incident and one of the models and I came up with Kreme Queens which was a photo series of people eating doughnuts with a handful of icing dripping off their hands. For Sweet Tooth I always joke that I was inspired by my two favorite things, dessert and men, in that order. Sometimes I’ve come up with series just because of a set up I’ve done with a model that worked out really well. Before Covid I had started a Playboy series. I had these vintage Playboy magazines from my grandparents and to decided spread them out on the floor and have the guys lay on top of them. Many themes I choose are usually just something that catches my eye in entertainment, a TV show or a movie. I’ve thought about doing a series of photos based on songs I love at some point.
MC: Your next coffee table Unwrapped; tell me about it.
MCraft: After Sweet Tooth I felt drained, it was a lot of work and there quite a few bumps on the road with that one. I decided I was going to take a long break, but Ian Greene (a porn star) wanted to shoot and I thought well one last shoot and then I’d take that break. For one of the set ups I decided to wrap him up in plastic wrap and have him tear out of it. I did this with a model a few years back and loved the results, but never did it again. After doing this with Ian I decided that it should be my new series and so that break was put on hold. I ended up shooting almost double the amount of models for this project than with Sweet Tooth and still had a few more to go when Covid hit. Whether I’ll still try to shoot more for this project or not is something I’m playing by ear. In realty I have plenty to work with and really don’t need to. Though I hadn’t really thought of this theme being that deep, one of the models, Lawrence Portland, came out later in life and started doing porn so he had said posing for this made him feel like he was breaking free from things that held him back from living his life. I hope the other models felt something positive from posing for this project.
MC: When did you know that photography was going to be the passion that you would be following?
MCraft: It’s something I should’ve known from when I was a child, I was obsessed with old family photographs and old classic Hollywood glamour shots, but photography didn’t come along until college. I needed a class to fill my schedule and took a photography class. From there I finally realized that’s what I should be doing and the rest is history.
MC: Who are some of the dream subjects that you would like to have in front of your photographic lens?
MCraft: Well if you’re talking celebrity, it would be Dolly Parton or even Stevie Nicks. I can only imagine playing around with all the clothes and accessories they must have! Now realistically speaking there’s so many guys I’ve chatted with on Instagram that I’d love to shoot with. To name just a few-@philofyourfuture, @mjudsonberry, @jhavoc, @kasey_lubbock, @ektor_nyc, @jonzu, I could keep going! That’s really just a few.
MC: Are there any projects that you have been forced to put on hold that you cannot wait to get back to working on post-pandemic?
MCraft: Aside from just shooting in general, I really want to finish Unwrapped and have that ready to go for next year. I would also like to do more of my Playboy series. I also have plans of working with another artist and combining our works to make up some good old fashioned ghoulish things for next October, which I’m really looking froward to.
Follow Michael Craft on Instagram
Grab a copy of Thirst Trap here