Last Wednesday I found myself at the 92nd Street Y supporting my great new friend Fern Mallis in the most recent of her Fashion Icon interviews, Bruce Weber.
Even though these charming conversations have become legendary within the fashion industry… receiving great reviews from all who attend, there’s very little on-line that proves that they happen at all other than tiny, badly edited clips.
Fern deserves her own YouTube channel and somebody needs to organize this for her tout de suite.
Indomitable Fern is known most notably for her creation of New York Fashion Week but more importantly she is the consummate glass ceiling smasher. A brusk Russian jew prone to surliness, an inability to suffer fools, she also has a huge charisma and charm that softens her incisive questioning.
One feels that if anybody can, Fern can.
Interviews with Donna Karan, Polly Mellen, Tom Ford, Andre Leon Talley, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang charting the genesis of their personal style, describing the homes where they were brought up, relationships with their parents and their personal adventures within the fashion industry have moved and delighted her audiences.
I arrived at her Bruce Weber interview expecting a great deal. In the theatre sat fashion luminaries Grace Coddington and Ralph Lauren.
The lecture series was announced, Fern introduces a short film by Bruce Weber with notable scenes including his own days as a model, numerous famous names and an elephant Bruce likes to take pictures of draped with naked boys.
The problem with Bruce Weber? He’s not that interesting. When all is said and done Bruce is a married man obsessed with the homoerotic. With his wife Nan, sitting in the audience it would have been difficult for any great interviewer to ask pertinent question about the other elephant in the room. The humongous pink elephant in the room. The question I wanted answered… like all the others who sat with bated breath wondering if Fern would go there. The question we wanted answering but was never answered, “Bruce Weber, are you gay?
In 2013 post DOMA this would not be an unusual or impertinent question. He has, after all is said and done, devoted himself to photographing naked, young, super-fit, white boys. He is brilliant at photographing naked white boys because he loves them. He worships them. Everything else he photographs dulls by comparison.
Bruce says that taking a picture of a beautiful boy is like a ‘handshake or a hug’ I would go further… every time he takes a photograph of a beautiful, naked, white boy he is fucking that boy, caressing his ass, sucking on his cock. The photographs and the films of beautiful, naked, white boys ooze sensuality, eroticism and the merest suggestion that we are only one shot away from seeing them hard and proud… shooting jizz all over their perfect white bodies.
Bruce Weber, are you gay?
Bruce Weber, why do you only shoot white boys? Why is there never a black or asian or pacific islander in any of your pictures? Why do people like Grace Coddington or Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren let you get away with this appalling racism?
Bruce Weber, have you (like Terry Richardson) ever used your power and prestige to encourage those boys you photograph to do other more extreme things for your camera?
I had lunch with a friend on Saturday who was also at the interview and (once we had discussed Terry Richardson sexual unmanageability problems) both lamented Weber’s lack of openness. We concluded that if we are truly looking for clues about this maybe closeted, married sixty-five year old man we may look no further than a dull, almost forgettable story he told about a beautiful man carrying an air conditioning unit.
Walking in the street Bruce stops and, risking a ‘punch on the nose’ asks a half-naked man carrying an air-conditioning unit if he can take his picture. If it is his true intention to simply take a picture why would the man want to punch him on the nose? If Bruce’s intention is to seduce the man… then a punch on the nose seems more likely.
I can shamelessly ask to take anyones picture if I only desire to take pictures. But if I am shamed by my desire for you, I want you to open yourself up to me, let me take you to a quiet place and take pictures of you as a means to watch you do things you keep private… then the implicit threat of violence seems more likely.
Beneath the chubby, bandana wearing kindly old grandfather facade lurks a self loathing homosexual, terrified of clearly and truthfully expressing his desires.
The interview was not as great as it could have been because we all colluded with Bruce Weber’s charade. If we could have gotten past the crust of self-hatred then a perfectly brilliant interview might have happened. No such luck.
Finally, Bruce expressed his frustration… hatred even for the democratization of photography, for Instagram, for Facebook postings. In Bruce’s perfect, elite white world manned by an army of assistants, he advised us that we should take our most treasured digital images and have them printed on expensive paper and make books as perfect keepsakes. Bruce lives in a world of perfect keepsakes, of platinum blonde golden retrievers bred by east coast breeders. Bruce lives by the sea, in the mountains, in the city keeping his eyes peeled for perfect boys who may or may not become stars in a world where naked Russian dancers come on seven month adventures around the world.
“Sergei, come travel with us.”
A faux commune of beautiful, young, white men, strumming guitars in the moon light. Warmed by flickering log fires, sitting on Navajo blankets and always naked, their abs and lats and still wet hair glistening from skinny dipping in crystal clear water and always ready for another perfect photograph.
Hush now, the girls have gone to sleep. Let me lay beside you and enjoy you for a little while.
The narrative is always the same in the cult of Bruce. The gently spoken, self loathing homosexual who needs his wife’s permission to buy another dog….