I just got Fine Art Sex, and maybe it will grow on me, but my initial reaction is that this is not Tom Bianchi's finest work...not by a long shot.
I'm a fan of Bianchi. I love that his erotic photography is so unscripted, that he just lets his models enjoy themselves on camera. It's so much sexier when the handsome male subjects are having actual fun, rather than standing stiffly around with blank sneers. I recognize what Bianchi has done for the field of gay photography and gay culture in general. That said, Fine Art Sex feels a tad too experimental and more than a tad pretentious.
There's certainly no shortage of beautiful men on display, beginning with the cover model, who stands bathed in sensual lighting as water laps at his thighs. Nice tease! However, the book begins with a lot of words rather than images as Bianchi describes his moods, his style, his philosophies, his background, and how the "beauty of this reality stops time in my mind." Weird...he's starting to sound like he should be wearing a beret and a black turtleneck. I've always gotten the sense that his art defies "artness," that its power and eroticism likes in its up-close, personal portrayal of its models, without any murky "symbolism" or "technique." Surely it needs no analysis. And the first batches of photos in the book are kind of uninspired. The biggest misfire is a series of screenshots taken via iPhone and Skype. Look, I'm aware that the digital world is a huge factor in modern-day erotica, especially for budding amateurs. But Bianchi is no amateur, and when I buy a book of his, I would prefer to see quality photography, not grainy, blurry, oversaturated screencaps. I don't think a book entitled "Fine Art Sex" is a place for experimenting or being ironic.
Luckily, the second half of the book sizzles as Bianchi dives into some extremely streamy underwater photography, followed by more of his trademark bedroom frolicking. I love underwater nudes and these do not disappoint. I also enjoy it when he shows us love amidst the sexual hijinks; my favorite photo in the book shows two men ("Dale and Bill"), one with an intricate tattoo, embracing in the nude. So gentle, such an undercurrent of desire, and Dale's posterior is worthy of Michelangelo with a big block of marble. That's the Bianchi I know! But even then, too many of the photos seem to be more about the technique than the men. We don't see their faces often enough; Bianchi seems to be practicing the same objectification he claims to avoid.
Some accuse Bianchi of self-indulgence. I hate to say it, but this book made me think they might be right. He describes his dream world of free-to-be gay men, and it's turning out to be a hyper-exclusive world, reserved for the beautiful...and, possibly, the easy lay. More and more, Bianchi inserts himself into his own compositions. His body, all vein and sinew, is good-looking for its age, but appears out of place next to the bronze smoothness of his models. If I were petty, I might accuse him of using his reputation as an excuse to romp about with younger men. I might also point out that rhapsodizing about one's true love sounds hypocritical when one often photographs oneself entangled in naked foursomes. It's quite possible I'm wrong about all this, but people will make these accusations, and Bianchi does not seem inclined to -- or capable of -- denying them.
So, in the end, Fine Art Nudes is a book with some satisfying photography and a lot of disappointing fiddling about. I have no problem with Bianchi experimenting, but to do so in a book that promises his usual straightforward, delightful erotica is to do his fans a disservice. I pray what he's really photographing is not his own ego.