Blake was my first.
Subject that is. He was the first one I had approached with my idea of shooting portraits of swimmers and he was first to agree. I had explained my idea. He didn’t even mind that it was going to be a full frontal—so to speak. Surprisingly, most of the men I photographed didn’t mind showing up in their Speedos. When I first started swimming at the Culver City Plunge Pool, after a long period away from swimming due to sinus problems, Blake, with his orange-ish tan, long skinny legs and air of perfectionism, was one of the first people I noticed. Before I knew his name, I use to call him (in my mind only) Skinny Legs. I wondered who he was and what he did. I immediately determined he was a regular. Make that, A REGULAR- caps.
Ever driven for the perfect freestyle stroke, Blake swims seven days a week, rain or shine. No sunscreen-- just a skimpy Speedo and the eternal quest to kick properly.
The really interesting—secret part of Blake, who is very fastidious but quick with a hearty laugh, is that he is a Professor of English at UCLA. When I photographed him last spring, he was on sabbatical writing his latest book. He’s a specialist on American Western culture. I just loved that.
I had to get approval at the pool to shoot his portrait and Diego Cevallos, the pool manager, who has been amazingly supportive gave his blessing. However, when I got to the pool, it was being drained for it’s annual five year cleaning. I couldn’t believe it. After weeks of planning around various schedules, the pool was now almost entirely empty of water when we showed up. But, what first looked to be a major problem, quickly turned into a once-in-a-five-year opportunity.
I had Blake stand in the middle of the pool. Something we could never had done if the pool was full. His second portrait was taken at his home, which of course, was absolutely immaculate without one spec of dust anywhere to be seen or sniffed. Blake pulled that white shirt of the closet and it looked as if it had never been worn once.
The final image: