Thursday April 22
That morning I got up a little after 9:00. I called Biron right away, because I knew he had a tendency to get on the modem in the mornings and keep his phone tied up for a couple hours. He was a little groggy when he answered because he was still in bed, but he was also rather excited.
"I was speaking to Peter Berlin," he said. "I mentioned you to him, and he said he might like to meet you. Is that something you'd be interested in?"
The original homoerotic self-portraitist: Peter Berlin
I knew from previous email conversations with Biron that he was friends with Peter Berlin. I had thought of asking Biron ahead of time if he thought there was a chance I might get to meet Peter, but somehow I felt funny about it. I decided to just go with the flow once I got there, and it if happened it happened. And here it was happening!
"I would be DELIGHTED to meet Peter Berlin," I said.
From here things got a little frantic. Biron was still trying to shake off sleep-inertia, and he had a tendency to be a bit indecisive as it was. He started proposing options to me. I would choose an option, and he would start to say why another option might be better. I would agree with him, and he'd second-guess himself and reconsider the first option. Finally we decided that I'd just head over to his place where he'd call Peter and arrange our rendez-vous. I hopped in the shower, threw on some clothes, and went directly to Biron's place.
When I got there Biron called Peter. We set up a place to meet and decided on a half-hour from that moment. That gave Biron and me a chance to grab a little breakfast on the way, since neither of us had eaten.
As we walked along I thought about how nervous I should be. I mean, Peter Berlin was never a *huge* star, but he was more of a celebrity than anyone *I'd* ever met, considering I've never met any. Yet I wasn't really nervous at all. I was a little anxious about what I'd say. I started to think of things about myself that he might be interested in. But then I completely reconsidered. I decided that I wasn't meeting Peter Berlin so that I could try to impress him with who *I* was. I was meeting Peter Berlin so that I could listen to whatever *he* had to say. I wanted to absorb every moment I spent in his presence.
Soon we arrived at the meeting place. I saw someone from a ways away who looked about like what I would expect Peter Berlin to look like in person, but Biron was wandering around, glancing here and there. Finally Biron saw him and away we went. Biron introduced us and we shook hands. He had a good, firm grip. He turned to Biron and commented on the beautiful, sunny day.
"You know," Peter said, "the sun is like a lover to me. I've had lovers come and go, but the sun is always there. And when I lie on the beach and feel the sun's rays envelop my body, I think to myself, this is the best lover I've ever had."
If there's something to be said for first impressions, Peter made a pretty damn good one on me.
From here we walked and talked. We didn't walk anywhere in particular nor talk about anything specific. Peter had his little dog with him. It looked to be rather old, but it was sprightly and well-behaved. Still, we strolled very slowly so that we didn't get too far ahead of it as it meandered along behind us. Peter had a leash with him, but allowed the dog to roam freely.
I understood Peter to be in his mid 50's. He looked about like he was in his mid 50's, but he also looked like he was in great shape for his age. He was very slender, and the skin under his jaw was firm and tight.
Conversation was generally about art in the Information Age. For the most part I kept my mouth shut. I pretty much had to, as Peter proved to be quite talkative. If there was a pause in conversation I would try to say something germane and intelligent. The more time that went on the more bold I became about trying to weasel in comments, but only if I had a specific thought that I thought was important to the discussion.
We wandered around for quite some time until we found ourselves back where we'd first met. On Biron's recommendation, I had a video tape of my work with me. Peter was interested in viewing it, and had brought along a compact video player so he could watch it right there. Unfortunately it was an 8mm player, and I had a VHS tape with me. For a moment I feared that Peter would just bag it and go home, but Biron offered that we walk to his apartment and view it there. Peter seemed very agreeable. We strolled along, slowly at first, but then Peter picked up his dog and we picked up the pace a bit. I continued to listen intently to the conversation as we walked.
Soon we were at Biron's place. We chatted for another few minutes, and then I put in the tape. I gave a brief introduction to each short subject, but as soon as each started I kept quiet. The tape contained Pard' Me, Further, G*I*J*O, and Network News 2000. When the extreme male genital torture scenes came up I was a little worried, but they seemed to take it in stride. Peter never made any remarks specifically about my work, but it did inspire him to speak of art in general, and independent video in particular. When the tape was done, I thought that would be it and Peter would leave. But he stayed in his seat and we continued chatting.
Biron booted up his computer and brought up my site so that Peter could see some of my homoerotic self-portraiture. At this point I became a little nervous, because this was Peter's territory. Peter Berlin practically invented homoerotic self-portraiture, and he was breaking new ground when I was eating popcycles and watching Gilligan's Island after school. Again, he never commented specifically on my work, but he did seem interested in it. He asked me about the process I go through to shoot these pictures. I described how I get the computer set up and hide the mouse under my foot or elbow to click off a picture. He smiled and lightly touched my arm. He explained how he had to do the same thing with a shutter-release back in the 70's when he was doing his own self-photography. That was an incredible moment. I had been aware of Peter Berlin and his work since long before I started doing work of my own, but I never really thought about him when I was shooting my own pictures, and I certainly never set out to copy him. Although had been doing essentially the same thing he'd done years before, we were using totally different media and had markedly different styles. Yet here we were, swapping stories about the difficulties of taking pictures of one's self, and finding a lot in common.
We continued to sit and chat for some time, until finally Peter had to leave for an appointment. We said our polite good-byes and he was gone. All told we had spent over three hours together.
I took Biron out to lunch where we continued the conversation. I asked Biron if he thought Peter had liked my work, since Peter had never really commented directly on any of it.
Biron looked square at me. "If Peter hadn't liked your work he would have gotten up and left. That's the kind of person he is."
Biron and I continued to chat as we walked along. We were getting to know each other better by this time, and my comfort level was growing. I had felt comfortable around Biron from the first moment, but now we were relating more as friends than as photographer and model. We had a nice lunch and then walked back to his apartment.
Biron got out the pictures we'd taken two days before, which I hadn't had a chance to see yet. I was very impressed. Although I didn't find the process of taking the pictures to be an entirely positive one, I couldn't argue with the results. The poses looked quite good, and even my forced smile was okay in many of the shots. Biron and I each picked out our favorite ones. Photographers tend to look more at the technical merits of each photo, whereas I tend to look at my pose and how my body appears in each one. Still, there was a lot of overlap in our choices. It was rather difficult, actually, because so many of the pictures turned out so well.
Eventually it was time for me to move on. We made plans to take more pictures the following day. I excused myself and went back to my hotel. I called Kenny at his office. He was excited to hear from me, since we hadn't spoken since the previous Sunday when they took me out touring. We made plans to get together for dinner that evening so I could tell him and Richard stories of my adventures during the week.
Finally having a moment to myself, I smoked a little pot and reflected on my experiences of the morning. This was the first time I'd ever met an established artist. I do know many artists and I'm in the company of artists every day. "Artist" is not a job title, but rather a state of mind and a way of looking at the world. Peter had this state of mind, in a big way, but he had also made a living at it and had achieved considerable notoriety doing so. This didn't make him any more of an artist than myself or my colleagues, but it caused me to bestow a considerable degree of legitimacy upon him in my own mind. He's had a lifetime of experiences that I dream of having, and he's known the kind of fame that I want to know myself. I had the mindset that I needed to achieve that kind of public recognition before I'd be an "established" or "legitimate" artist.
I now began to look at myself differently. I met Peter Berlin not as a fan showering adulation upon him, not as a sycophant seeking his favor, but simply as a fellow artist with mutual interests. It wasn't a brief, polite introduction in a public setting. We spent time together, we shared our thoughts and ideas, and we simply enjoyed each other's company. Learning more about Peter and what he'd done indirectly taught me about myself and what I'm doing.
The internet gave ma a global audience for my work from the day I started showing my pictures on the web. I always knew that, but I'd never really taken stock in what it meant. I had defined legitimacy as an artist in terms of public recognition. Beyond the praise I received from personal emails, I hadn't gotten any recognition at all. I found that very frustrating, because I felt like I was doing something special. I wasn't just putting hastily-composed dick shots on the web. I was creating beautiful, artistic pictures. I was sharing my image, my life, and my soul with the world. I was using the web in ways that I didn't see anyone else doing. All this and I still wasn't getting the kind of recognition that I felt I needed to be a legitimate artist.
As I was pondering this, something finally dawned on me. I was doing something special. I was breaking new ground. I did have a global audience, and I'd met with virtually universal acceptance. Peter had used the means available to him at the time to gain recognition. Those means were predominantly the gay erotica and gay art industries of the 70's and 80's. The success he achieved within these establishments was his recognition. In the 90's I was using the means available to me, namely the world wide web. I had perceived this as less legitimate, since it was basically by amateurs for amateurs. But what the internet really accomplished was removing the means of access from the establishment and placing it into the hands of ordinary people. Consequently, recognition came not from the establishment where I'd been seeking it, but from the ordinary people who had been showering me with it since the beginning. The recognition I'd been receiving from individuals was no less legitimate than magazine articles or radio interviews. I finally realized that I was a legitimate artist, and that I had been all along. I didn't need the blessings of the establishment to be an "established" artist.
This realization gave me a new confidence in myself and my work, and it led to a single conclusion. I'd been doing art for a few years. It was now time to start doing something with my art. I didn't entirely know what that meant, but my new mission was to figure it out.
Soon it was time for dinner. Kenny and Richard picked me up in front of my hotel. We went up into the hills to visit their friend Tony. He wasn't home, but we decided to wait around a bit and see if he showed up. Sure enough, he pulled up in just a few minutes. Being a BMW owner himself, he immediately started drooling over Kenny & Richard's brand new 323i. They then started comparing electronic gadgets. Tony's conclusion was that he needed a newer BMW himself.
We went inside and had some wine. Tony's back room had a spectacular view of the city. He's some big wig with Apple computer, so he had brand new fancy Macintosh's all over the place. He and Kenny started talking networking, operating systems, and interoperability issues. Being on vacation, I had absolutely no interest in sharing in this discussion. I turned to Richard and started telling him about my week. We all had another glass of wine, and soon it was time to move on.
We were devoid of ideas of what to do for dinner, so we finally decided to just go back to Kenny & Richard's and order a pizza. This worked well for everyone. I was a little tired of every meal having to be some big production, and they had to get to bed early anyway since they had to work the next day. While we were waiting for the delivery guy we watched a little Will & Grace. I'd never seen it because I lost my network TV access before it premiered. Then Frasier came on. Kenny & Richard were laughing themselves silly, but I found I'd grown weary of their whole schtick. When dinner arrived we shut off the TV anyway.
After we'd eaten I turned on the TV again to show them the video tape I'd shown Biron and Peter earlier that day. They enjoyed it very much. But then came the scenes of extreme male genital torture. I was chuckling away to myself, but when I turned around I saw that Kenny had his face buried in the sofa cushions, and Richard's jaw was in his lap.
After a brief silence, Richard, still stunned, said, "That shouldn't........... exist."
It was a while before Kenny could pull his face out of the cushions. I've gotten a wide variety of reactions from this video, but that was the most anyone had ever bugged over it. I apologized for not having warned them ahead of time, but Richard admitted that for art's sake it was important to leave the element of surprise.
By now it was time for them to go to bed anyway. Richard was ready to get the car back out and give me a ride, but I wouldn't hear of it. I told them to go to bed and I'd be fine. I put a CD in the player that I keep in my leather jacket, cranked up the volume, and away I went. I actually walked through the lower Haight where I'd been the previous Tuesday. I felt oddly comfortable and safe. Soon I was back in my own "neighborhood." I grabbed a beer from the corner store, went up to my room, watched a little TV, and was out like a light.