“People generally think of me as irrelevant because I deal in things that have never been fashionable,” says celebrated fine-art photographer David Armstrong while smoking a Newport 100 in his 615 Brooklyn brownstone, where he shoots most of his work right now. “If anything, this [fashion] work has allowed me to [do] something that’s contemporary.”
Armstrong was included in the 1995 Whitney Biennial and spent many years photo-editing for his close friend Nan Goldin. Best known for his intimate portraits of men (whether they be friends, lovers, or something in between), which he’s been shooting for nearly 40 years, Armstrong’s photos have greatly influenced young, gay male photographers, from Ryan McGinley to Alasdair McLellan. But not exclusively.
In recent years, he has been commissioned by Carine Roitfeld, Hedi Slimane, and Cecilia Dean for commercial fashion projects. This year, Armstrong contributed to CR Fashion Book, 10 Magazine, and AnOther Man, while also continuing his personal portraiture work focused on young men “in the bloom of youth,” a period he says lasts about six months.
Whether Armstrong, 58, shoots for his clients or for himself, he says, “In all the portraits, there’s a lot of sexual sublimation.” He takes a drag of his cigarette and continues, “Photographing is like a seduction; it’s intimate when you’re alone with them.” Yet he’s quick to point out: “I never want to manipulate anybody but just put [them] in a comfortable place and then see what comes out.” To see what he means, we asked Armstrong to choose his most pivotal male portraits from his nearly four-decade career and then had him break down his thought process for each image, which you can read in the slideshow ahead.