Robert Trachtenberg’s new book, Red-Blooded American Male, has a Canadian actor—Will Arnett, in fishnets—on its cover; that sly joke hints at the humor that follows. Published by Amphoto Books, the book is filled with more than 100 portraits of high-profile leading men—comedians, ballet dancers, quarterbacks, war veterans and Broadway veterans—often in unusual, imaginative, sexy or compromising poses and setups. Featuring stars such as Jimmy Fallon, Seth Rogen, Channing Tatum, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, Trachtenberg’s images challenge conventional notions of masculinity and traditional male imagery in scenes that trade on vanity, vulnerability and tenderness, as well as plain sex appeal.
Trachtenberg, whose photographs have appeared in magazines from Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone to Esquire, and whose documentary work has won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Direction, tells PDN how the book came about, and how he curated the final selection of portraits.
PDN: What was your inspiration for creating Red-Blooded American Male?
Robert Trachtenberg: My agent originally suggested I do a personal project and I kind of said ‘Well, taking portraits is what I do for a living; there are no personal projects.’ It’s my work and I take it really seriously. The idea of backpacking through the Mid-West [for a project] is not me; it’s not what I do. So I called my book agent and proposed the idea for a book that related more to my work. And what I unconsciously do in my men’s work is I put them in compromising positions. So I called a few publishers and within a short amount of time we had a deal.
PDN: How did you come up with the title?
RT: The title came from a running joke that I have with friends where typically it’ll be ‘Hey! What are you up to?’ ‘Oh, I’m up to my ears making a fruit salad.’ ‘Oh, of course. That’s what any red-blooded American male would be doing!’ It seemed like a good fit.
PDN: How did you select the images for the book?
RT: Many of the photographs are images that I’ve taken in the past that people have always responded to. I shot a bunch of new images specifically for the book, and I wanted to go beyond celebrities and shoot people from a couple different walks of life. I didn’t want those images to feel like something that had been done before either. For example, I shot an Afghanistan war veteran who is using his prosthetic leg as a beer stein. There was a lot that had been done before on this subject and done really well, and luckily people like him had not only moved on, but have a sense of humor about it that ties in to so many other pictures in the book.
I really just wanted it all to be a little different. Another example, I am really in to food, so I shot an image of a 15-year old chef who is about to open his first restaurant. I wanted to do a men’s fashion designer, so I shot Thom Browne, a designer who is shaking things up in terms of what men’s apparel should be; he’s changing the way men think about dressing more than anyone else in the last couple of years.