The older a man gets, the more he appreciates the attentions of younger men (Eventually, what else is left?) so photographer Christopher Turner, who likes the silver in a man’s hair, is a distracting subject for an interview.
His smile is flirtatious as he studies every aspect of the daddy before him, venerating the visible details that might disclose accomplishment and experience. (Or is that just this old guy’s wishful thinking? He is very handsome.)
Turner, born in Florida and raised in a nomadic family (His father was a defense contractor) graduated high school in New Jersey and college in New York City. His complex relationship with the camera seems to be reaching a fine resolution in his recent work.
In a world drowning in digital imagery, only a few portrait photographers arrest the eye as does Christopher Turner. His lenses seem to stroke their subjects in a soothing way. His celebrity portraits of Olympia Dukakis, Alan Cumming, Russell Tovey and Armistead Maupin who is his husband of eight years, have rapidly increased demand for his seductive approach to an assignment.
“When I do portrait photography, people tell me I am very good at getting them relaxed and I think it is because of my time as a massage therapist. Celebrities, especially actors, are so used to being on stage. It’s hard to catch unguarded moments. When I set up for a shoot I often do a few self-pics to test the light,” Turner said. “ I don’t like having the camera pointed at me. I never felt like I was a good model. I forced myself into modeling because I was shy. My comfortable space is behind the camera. I start a session with conversation, trying to get the person to forget the lights and mechanicals. Then, I get very ‘click-happy,’ taking maybe 150 shots in 20 minutes.”
Turner’s disarming technique seems to work. Jon Allen, owner of Island House Key West Gay Hotel & Resort, recently sat for Turner.
“Working with Chris was a great experience. He’s bright, funny and caring; a real pleasure to be with, which made the whole process of ‘stand right there – turn your head just a little more to the right – hold that pose’ much less stressful than it usually is,” Allen said. “And the results speak for themselves. I had 137 of my Facebook friends ‘like’ those pictures right away. They called them ‘amazing’ and ‘beautiful’ and said that I am ‘looking good,’ which for an old guy like me is the best compliment of all.”
Armistead Maupin by Christopher Turner
Forty-three year old Turner may still be described as a promising/fledgling photographer whose best work is yet to come if he doesn’t once again move into some other field of creative expression. He has, after all, had a variety of careers. Photography seems to be a natural step, building on his accomplishments as a student earning a graduate degree in spiritual psychology, as a fashion model living in London, Rome and Milan, and as a certified massage therapist in the Mission District of San Francisco for nine years.
Somehow Turner also had time to start, grow and sell successful ventures including DaddyHunt.com, PantheonMen.com and HotOlderMale.com, all dedicated to his deep admiration for men of a certain age. He met his husband Armistead Maupin via DaddyHunt, and he is proud that the site has delivered much more than hook-ups.
“I always felt that site was my baby. It wasn’t about hustlers looking for sugar daddies. It was a celebration of older gay men,” Turner said. “All kinds of guys wrote to me about how they met their partners on the site. I built it up to about 200,000 members and sold it in 2009.”
While Turner’s interest in photography went from hobby to business via his porn production company, he quickly grew tired of shooting “product” and focused on artistic work that expressed his desire to show the beauty that is beneath the skin.
“It’s only taken off in the last couple of years. At this point, I don’t have much of a body of work. I’m thinking about doing a series of photos of elder gays that would show their strong leadership,” he said. “Also, I am playing around with a long exposure process. The result is somewhere between motion and still. It’s what the camera can see but we can’t.”
In addition to shooting within the walls of his 10’X35’ studio in a converted San Francisco canning factory, Turner works outdoors, creating dramatic landscapes that show his admiration for the black and white work of Ansel Adams.
“I like doing things that are moody, evocative and sexy. At this point in my life, I am just going to follow my passion. Maybe there was a little panic and mid-life crisis that made me switch careers, and I have gone through great periods of my life when I feared death, but now, I’m where I should be,” he said. “I practice yoga and I meditate. I think just a little bit about death each day - which is something the Dalai Lama recommends - but in a good way. I also work on my photography every day as a training discipline.”
Olympia Dukakis by Christopher Turner
Turner’s portrait subjects are not only older gay men. He makes gorgeous pictures of women.
“When I practiced massage, my clientele was mostly gay men, but I always found it interesting to work on women,” he said. “I am a total Kinsey 6, so I was fascinated by women’s bodies. I think that shows in my photos of them.”
It would have been ridiculous not to ask Turner about his experience of shooting Russell Tovey, the sexy 33 year-old star of the HBO series “Looking” whose comments about masculinity have been controversial.
“Armistead and I met him at the Castro Street Fair, and ended up having dinner with him,” he said. “He said ‘I’ll sit for you.’ At first, it was a little difficult to get him into a good space. He is so disarmingly sweet and sexy.”
Turner concludes our interview saying with a twinkle in his eye, “I had a therapist once tell me that gay men are often and naturally attracted to their opposite. Younger to older, for instance.”
In a world where older gay men feel increasingly invisible and rudely ushered out of the realms of desirability, Christopher Turner is an oasis.
Check out his work at www.ChristopherTurner.com