Dusty St. Amand is an incredibly talented photographer living in New York that we had the pleasure of interviewing. His work is absolutely beautiful and can definitely be described as sexy. Be prepared to have your breath taken away.
Christophe: When did you first become interested in photography?
Dusty: I’ve had my eyes on erotic and/or pornographic media for a *long* time. I’ve always been inspired (whether it sent me towards good or ruin) by the way homosexual sex and intimacy was depicted in art and in the media. I’d venture to say that an obsession with intimacy has pushed it out of my personal life and into what is now my photography. The camera is how I choose to participate in conversations about the sexual and emotional lives of men. I’ve been playing with cameras for just under a decade but I’ve been more focused on shooting with intent for the past 3 years.
C: Were you self-taught or did you learn in school/from a mentor?
D: I’ve been fortunate enough to grab a lot of technical information from friends and from the photographers who used to photograph me (I “modeled” as, like, an "art-hobby"). From the shoot to the final photos, I was absorbing a lot know-how from the other side of the lens. I follow a lot photographers on Instagram who I see myself reflected in. With really open eyes, I take notes from them constantly. All the photo info in my head was entirely self-sought, but communally taught.
C: How did you develop your style?
D: I think limitations guide your style. I used to live in the Bronx with a tiny, narrow kitchen that I shot in. I had one tall blueish softbox light that barely fit in front of the models and I taped a grey curtain to the far wall. And I only had a fixed 85mm lens, so I’d have to press myself into the last inch of the opposite corner in order to fit the model in the frame. All of my images were coming out with extreme shadows and were often cropped into specific body parts. My obsessive nature started to thrive in that light scenario. It was moody and sensual and sexy and sad. And that’s the vibe I incorporate into everything now.
C: What themes do you explore through your work?
D: I play with identity. Sometimes I want the people in my images to have no discernible face or name so that more viewers can look on with empathy, less altered by bias or attraction.
When you boil an intimate and/or sexual experience with another person, so rarely are you absorbing all of the visual information they offer in one scope (as a photograph would). We take one another in through glimpses. Flashes of tone and motion. I like to see those vignettes that make you feel like you’re there. A neck, shiny from a kiss. The middle of the back where the muscles butterfly outward. The gap in the teeth. The belly, overgrown with fur. My work is occasionally lonesome. Occasionally manic and egotistical. To me, it’s delicate.
C: How do you find and choose your subjects or locations?
D: Many of the people I have photographed have not been purposeful models. A lot of them have been friends and lovers who I happened to have near my camera. But a lot of them have also been those dudes that twinkle to me. They’re either beautiful in some specific way or they’re fresh off a big achievement or they vibrate somewhere near the weird plane of thought I live on. Locations are so circumstantial. If terroir is important to whatever I’m trying to express, I do what I can to organically factor the surroundings into the work. I like to go walk and shoot too.
C: What inspires your work?
D: How delicate masculinity is. Taboo feelings towards sex. My pursuit of intimacy. Humorous men who are honest with themselves.
The body compartmentalization and dehumanization of the people we fuck.
C: How do you compose an image? Do you go into the shoot with a specific shot in mind, or does the inspiration strike when you place your model in the setting?
D: The latter. I try a ton of different settings throughout and see what sticks. If it’s a winning location, I take my time and compose things. Otherwise I’m just buzzing about, clicking.
C: What has been your biggest lesson learned through creating your art?
D: How to balance performativity in work and life- learning to commit to things because I love them not because I want to be perceived as loving something.
C: Why did you choose your craft?
D: It’s my way of telling stories in a very digital image-centric cultural.
C: What do you hope your art says to people?
D: That intimacy is something everyone needs and deserves.
C: How hard was it to become profitable at it?
D: I’m still working on that but… if you can manage to find a good client or a good array of clients that pay you enough to keep yourself a float and maybe then some, reinvest into yourself while you have the money to do it. Freelance jobs often won’t have deductions in your pay, so a huge tax bill can hit you if you’re not managing and writing off expenses to balance that a bit. It’s kind of a feast or famine career (not photography in general, but this very unique career that I’m still in the process of starting).
C: Any suggestions to newcomers to the field?
D: I’m totally still a newcomer to photography, in a technical sense, but I’ve been an artist within some medium or another my whole life… so let’s say the field is “profitable art when you’re a person who finally reached their breaking point and vowed to stop working for other people in jobs that brought you misery”. Just do what you love.
Make work that’s you, through and through. Devote your time and resources (whenever possible) to getting better, networking, and promoting your work. All of the work that’s come my way is from clients who found me because they love what I’m already generating.
C: If you couldn’t be doing your craft, what would you do instead?
C: Any favorite moments of your career so far?
D: I’m currently shooting a large portion of the visual assets that Grindr uses to market themselves globally. Millions of people engage with my images every time they’re featured. Getting hired by them (and subsequently hired again and again) has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding professional experiences I’ve had. Shooting HBO’s ‘Looking’ star, Raul Castillo, was pretty rad. And I got to photograph this kid that I was really mean to when I was like 11 years old and we became friends.
C: What would you do differently if you could start from scratch?
D: I’d fill more of my time with technical training (lighting and studio management) so that I’d have been able to utilize those skills to support myself during slow financial times.
C: Is there a defining moment in your career so far?
D: I had my own solo art show at The Leslie+Lohman Museum for Gay and Lesbian Arts, in Manhattan, during this past Pride. The show ran for three days and I sold three pieces into the museum’s collection. That was pretty fucking major.
C: Is there anything you really enjoy in your craft vs another line of work?
D: I like that I’m able to engage people in honest, emotional conversation as opposed to hiding my feelings for the sake of hospitality.
C: Biggest pet peeve about the industry?
D: There are so many industries attached to photography, so I definitely can’t speak to everyone’s experiences. But I can address concern within the social/artistic queer sphere that I find myself in- I just want people to maintain some level of clear-headedness when it comes to comparing oneself to the curated projection of people’s lives and personas. These flat, tiled images are rooted in reality but they aren’t reflective of the way things truly are. They aren’t full truths.
Ben: Is flannel really always appropriate?
D: I don’t think I own any, but I also don’t try to be appropriate.