I’ve just done my first photo shoot with Joe. This photo shoot is notable for a couple of reasons. One is that I finally got the digital camera I’ve been lusting after for the last few months: a Canon EOS digital Rebel. It’s got 6.5 megapixels, which is a lot and means I can shoot higher-resolution photos than before. It’s also a single-lens reflex (SLR), and that means that when you look through the viewfinder you’re actually looking through the lens, so when you’re framing the shot you’re seeing what the lens sees. This is the camera that signals my shift from film (I’ve been shooting 35mm slides of my models for over 20 years now) to digital, so it needs to be a good one.

The other notable aspect of this photo shoot is the fact that Joe is not someone I saw on the beach or at the club and thought, he’s hot, and asked him to model; he’s one of my closest friends. One of the things I love about Joe is his impish, let’s-have-a-good-time-and-the-hell-with-what-the-neighbors-think attitude. It’s one of the things that makes him a lot of fun to be around. But there’s something else about Joe, too. He’s got charisma. It’s hard to define and impossible to explain, but he’s got it…that presence that makes people turn around and look when he walks into the room.

(A little background on Joe: he’s in his early 30s, he was born and raised in Hawaii–and is actually part-Hawaiian–and he is a very talented dancer.)

Still, even with all that going for him, I never thought of Joe as model material. He was kind of thin, and more white than I usually like to work with, plus he was one of my best friends. So it just didn’t occur to me. Until recently.

In the past few months Joe has blossomed. Instead of working out sporadically and not very seriously, he got very committed to going to the gym. In fact, he has become a total gym bunny. I, along with many of his other friends, have watched in amazement as his body has gone from okay to fabulous.

But that’s not all. There’s also been a change in Joe’s attitude. He’s grown, he’s mellowed, he’s more at ease with himself than he used to be. And that’s made him even more attractive than he already was.This has all come together to make Joe a hot property. So hot, in fact, that going out with him has become kind of annoying. I get very tired of guys coming up to me and saying, breathless and wide-eyed: “Who’s your friend? He is SO hot!”

When I got over being annoyed by this I realized hey, there’s a possibility here. This is a different Joe. This is a Joe my collectors would love to see! So I finally asked him if he’d like to model. He was very flattered. And excited. He’s known me for a long time, and seen my work and my models over the years, and never thought he’d be Simonson model material. But—and I think you’ll agree—he is.

So on January 28, Joe and I drove out to a spot called Queens Beach (not to be confused with Queens’ Surf, the gay beach in Waikiki) which is between Sandy Beach and Makapuu, on the eastern end of Oahu. It’s pretty secluded, which is why I like it. Because of its location it doesn’t get much rain and it’s usually kind of brown and dry, but it’s winter, which is the rainy season here, and it’s been exceptionally rainy lately, so the area is way greener than usual.

I shot both slides (I still have some slide film I need to use up) and digital, with the new camera. I started out shooting slides of Joe taking off his boardshorts and putting on sunblock. After about 4 rolls, I ran out and switched to digital. I’ll tell you one thing I already love about digital—you don’t have to change film every 2 minutes!

Joe was nervous at first but got over it pretty fast. He really does like being in front of the camera. There’s a performer and an exhibitionist in there and it’s pretty close to the surface. Of course that’s great for my purposes. The more of a ham my model is, the better the shots I get. Anyway, I wound up shooting a lot of digital images (about a gigabyte and a half, or almost 500 images) plus the film, and I got some very good material.

When we finished the photo shoot, Joe said the same thing all my first-time models tell me: “Wow. I was nervous at first, but that was FUN!”

My fun is going to be working from these images. And seeing my collectors’ reactions to them.

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