Art, explains photographer Charles Holzhey, is basically a way of telling a joke. "I'm pretty much spoofing the art world by calling myself an artist," Holzhey says, puffing on a cigarette outside the Pioneer Square Saloon, and handing me one in spite of my weak objections. (I've been trying to quit for two years, but then I'm not really here tonight to learn self-control.) Even though Holzhey doesn't do stand-up, his work is pretty much always good for a laugh, with a little shock value to boot. His best-known project is a photo series documenting the struggles Mr. Peanut endures after Planters lays him off. (He ends up doing porn to make ends meet.)For the past four years, Holzhey's been shooting and compiling nude portraits that he calls the "Slang Series," in which models of all ages, backgrounds, and body types obscure their reproductive organs with an object representing one of the many monikers we use to avoid referring to our genitalia in grown-up terms. One photo features a woman laughing, her mouth open wide as she obscures her holiest of holies (a term Holzhey hasn't portrait-ized—yet) with a "finger pie." To construct it, Holzhey used a clay potpourri pie from Goodwill and fingers from a severed hand purchased at Archie McPhee. Later in the series, a young man stands proudly, legs spread apart, using a photo of Richard Nixon to obscure his Johnson. He smugly throws up Nixon's infamous double victory sign.See, once upon a time, Holzhey worked as a freelance fashion photographer in New York City (under the likes of Annie Leibovitz and Hiro), which might explain why much of his work, not just the Slang Series, seems to satirize the illusory nature of fashion photos. But no matter whom he's shooting, Holzhey has a genuine knack for showing his subjects in a favorable light—even if they're holding a rubber rooster in front of their crotch.That's why I asked him to help me set the scene for a sexy photo shoot that wouldn't make me look lumpy, chubby, or washed out—all reasons that every naked photo ever taken of me has wound up in the garbage. I'm not ugly, nor am I fat, but we big-boned descendants of Eastern European immigrants just can't seem to meet the fashion world's high standard of emaciation. Also, I'm pale, and my income doesn't exactly provide the extra cash I'd need to visit the tanning salon. So I have to ask: How can I take (or have someone else take) photos of me that don't make me look like a horny Jewish wraith with jiggly cellulite thighs?"You want soft lighting," he explains. That can be achieved by tacking up a white sheet as a backdrop to diffuse the glare, and putting every lamp you own behind it. Set up your camera directly in front of the sheet, for the most even dispersal of light possible. Now let's talk props. Most people think of beds when they think naked pictures, but Holzhey prefers chairs. "The sexy chair offers many options," he observes, drawing an X-rated stick figure diagram to illustrate. You can lie across the armrests. You can sit on the armrest. You can sit backwards. You can sit backwards and lean back. On a bed, you're just lying there.Also, take care of your skin. Have your "photographer" give you a nice rubdown with baby oil before the shoot. "That's the fun part," Holzhey says with a lascivious grin. But there's a practical purpose too. "A little bit of moisture adds some nice sheen," he tells me. Also, what kind of chair should one procure? I assumed a nice plush fabric. But Holzhey likes vinyl better."Wouldn't you slide off a vinyl chair if you're all oily?" I ask him. "That's not sexy."Holzhey chuckles. "No, but it's funny."firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Holzhey Open Studio Tashiro Kaplan Building, 115 Prefontaine Place, #619. 5–8 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 2.