Vivienne Maricevic has been photographing naked men for 25 years and plans to keep doing it till she dies. Her clients are everyday men from all walks of life, most of them straight, who hire her through her Website: sheshootsmen.com. “Men love the role reversal,” she tells me in the midtown apartment she shares with her husband. “They love the opportunity to be a sex object.” But she gets a charge out of it, too. “I like helping them fulfill a sexual fantasy.”
An energetic, youthful brunette in her fifties, Vivienne grew up in Westchester, passionate about art. When she was 20, her brother gave her a 35-millimeter camera. She taught herself photography, and later landed a job at a fine-art magazine. Frustrated with the dearth of male nudes, she took it upon herself to change things.
In 1976, she took her first male nude photos, of a boyfriend. For a while he was her only subject, but she soon grew bored with him and placed an ad in the back of The Village Voice: “Male nudes by female photographer,” and the men came calling. She’d go to their apartments and shoot them in their kitchens or bedrooms. These early photos have an ease and naturalness: A man sits at his kitchen table bathed in light, his hands in his lap; a middle-aged guy stands talking on the phone.
She estimates that since then she has shot close to 1,000 men. Most subjects are average-looking, going so far as to warn her in advance that “I have a pot belly” or “I’m small.” Once the shoot begins, her subjects relax. “They know that I’m not judgmental,” she says. “And they like me telling them they look good.”
At the other end of the spectrum, she has clients who are self-professed exhibitionists who ask that she photograph them outside, guerrilla-style. “One guy stood on a bench in front of Atlas on Fifth Avenue, at the height of all the street traffic, and opened his coat and I got the picture. Some people saw it and weren’t sure if they saw it or not.”
Another client, a businessman, wears women’s panties under his three-piece suit to work and likes her to photograph him in them. “He has 36 pairs of women’s panties he likes to wear. He’s married and his wife knows. She buys the panties.”
Vivienne acknowledges that she gets a voyeuristic thrill out of her work—“I’m the kind of person that, if I see a couple kissing in a park, would go around to get a better look.” But she says she’s also trying to put more male nudes into popular culture so they can be as accepted as female nudes; she has been published in several collections in Europe and the U.S., including Nerve: The New Nude, and Male Nude Now: New Visions for the 21st Century.
Part of the resistance to the subject in the fine-art world may be that erections are still taboo in this country, and in the past decade she’s shot men with erections almost exclusively, encouraging the men to masturbate while she works. “When I’m looking through my viewfinder at a man with an erection, I see his essence, his most powerful being. But he’s also very vulnerable in that moment. It’s a contradiction.”
She thinks her openness to shooting them this way is bolstered by her strong marriage. “When I wasn’t married, I kept my distance more.” But the men have changed, too. “In the seventies, sex was more free and open, so posing nude wasn’t as sexually charged. Now, post-aids, sex is more taboo, and they’re looking for new ways to get turned on.” To help her subjects along, she’ll talk to them from behind the camera. “I’ll say, ‘So, Joe, how do you feel? What are you thinking about? How does your penis feel?’ One time I said, ‘How does your dick feel?’ and the guy said, ‘Please don’t use that word. It’s vulgar.’ ”
She pops in a tape she recently shot (if it’s okay with the subject, she usually brings along a video camera). I see a slender guy in his forties in a Lone Ranger–style mask, naked, kneeling on a bed, with a cock ring on. She asks him what sexual position he likes best and he says, “Doggy style,” and I realize I know this guy. (No, not biblically, he’s a downtown filmmaker, and I’ve been to a dinner party at his house.) Suddenly, Vivienne’s work seems much less distant—it’s one thing if strangers are hiring her, another if people I know are.
“Do you ever get turned on?” I ask, after she ejects my friend.
“No, not sexually, the way I am with my husband. I might get a little flushed in the cheeks. It’s an endorphin rush. If I can have a happy relationship and get a rush from my work too, then why not?”
Sometimes her subjects hit on her during the shoots, forcing her to do some explaining. “There was one guy I photographed, and he said, ‘Aren’t you getting turned on? I am.’ I explained that it’s hot for me too, but in a different way.” One subject, whom she’s shot several times, doesn’t even ask for prints; he values the experience over the record of it.
The men who do take prints often hide them from their wives and girlfriends. “They worry their wives would think something went on with me that shouldn’t.” (One guy keeps an apartment in the city for his various mistresses and hangs the photos there, away from his wife and children in Princeton.) But a few married subjects find the experience so exciting that they bring their wives along the second time. “I really like that,” Vivienne gushes. “I’m opening her up to a new possibility with her husband.”
Her own husband is completely supportive. They met at a party in Soho in the early eighties when she was photographing live sex shows in Times Square. She says that when she told him what she did, he was genuinely curious, and has never seemed threatened by her work. Of course, back in the eighties, there were some perks that came with being her boyfriend. “I took him with me to a sex show, and he was in heaven.”
Recently, Vivienne shot an 87-year-old man. “He wanted to get his penis hard and he couldn’t, but he loved the fact that I was there photographing him. I loved the fact that he was 87 and open-minded about something like this. I told my husband, ‘Someday I’ll be 90, photographing 90-year-old men.’ ”