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Before you begin... Have you read Part I of Graham's 'Experiences in Sex Work'?
I got caught up in a car crash in February of 2009. I have literally had one of those catalysing, near-death-experiences that you sometimes see in films, or hear about as inspiring, heart-warming stories. They often feel a bit cliched, because they're a convenient narrative for a protagonist to take stock, reflect on what they've lost, think about what they've still got and reevaluate their priorities in life.
I won't go into any more detail than I have to, here. The specifics of the accident aren't all that important; it's the consequences that are relevant. The short version is that I was left with some calcification of the supraspinatus muscle in my right shoulder. I was already suffering from migraines, but they suddenly stepped up in frequency and intensity. My neck and shoulder became much more sensitive to cold and a dull ache can set in very easily. I also developed a disk problem that took a while to manifest — but when it showed up, it did so spectacularly. For nearly a year, I had limited mobility and near constant pain.
The very short version is that I was left with a damaged shoulder and recurring back problems.
In a short period of time, for a variety of reasons, I lost a whole bunch of things. Some of those were related to the car crash, some to a few bad decisions I'd made. I lost the flat I was living in and most of the stuff that was in it — including a huge collection of books, comics and DVDs. And I lost my job as a massage therapist.
My entire career as a therapist, in fact. Recovery took a while and I had to undergo physiotherapy. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get straight back into my job. Massaging one or two people over the course of a day might be fine… But the shoulder injury wasn't going away. There was no way I could get through an entire shift on a busy day.
I knew I'd need to show some Continuing Professional Development for the insurance. I also knew where I was going to need to focus that CPD to feel sufficiently competent again. I'd need to retrain in at least one form of massage therapy. This would take time and money. I had plenty of time, but no money. The training had pretty much skinned me the first time round. I couldn't afford it again.
And when I really thought about it, I started wondering whether I particularly wanted to go back to the job. I enjoyed massaging people when the focus was to make them feel good. But I didn't like going to a clinic, day after day, so I could massage a random bunch of strangers to support somebody else's financial gain. Even if the person I supported was supposedly a friend.
Given my ongoing back and shoulder problems, I had no idea whether retraining and returning to massage would have even been possible. I was pretty happy to step back and use the injuries as an excuse to not even try. I certainly didn't feel confident about it back then. And so, in the ten years since that car crash, I haven't massaged anybody I didn't want to and I haven't charged a penny for a single one of them. I've actually had to stand my ground pretty firmly on that one, when — very occasionally — somebody has insisted on paying me.
I thought about trying to become a "tantric" therapist. I went back and forth on that one quite a lot, because I wasn't sure if that same dissatisfaction would come creeping back. I was worried that something I enjoyed doing would become something I was compelled to do, if I used it to make money.
I started thinking about modelling, again. I'd been a life model when I was in my early twenties, so I knew that it was a potential fallback option if I needed it. I'd actually been trying to get into different kinds of modelling for years, but — other than in life modelling — I'd never really made any progress. I really wanted to do something photographic and, if possible, sexually overt. I'd seen some beautiful pictures on some amazing fetish websites and I'd always wished I could get involved in that sort of thing. And suddenly, I had a lot of free time available to pursue this. I had been working around sixty hours a week (absolute minimum) when I'd been trying to help my ‘friend' Nancy get her therapy clinic established. Now I was doing nothing at all. I needed something, because the inactivity was a massive ordeal for me.
A few things happened at once that made all this much easier.
First, I found a website that I could upload pictures onto and from which I could potentially sell prints.
Second, I started playing around with a copy of Photoshop that somebody had given me.
It was an intensely intimidating program to use and it took me ages to familiarise myself with it. At first I couldn't figure out even the most basic steps. I couldn't even figure out the "undo" function. If I made a change to a picture and didn't like it, I had to restart the program and reopen the picture and start over from scratch.
The pictures I was working with didn't have much potential, anyway. The only camera I had available at the time was very cheap and very disposable. My mum had given it to me when she upgraded to a better one. I used it all the time, but kept almost none of the pictures I ever took. The memory space was terrible so I was constantly deleting pictures to make room for more.
It didn't help that I was working on my own, that the camera didn't have a timer and that I mostly wanted to take nude self-portraits. There were practical reasons for this, as well as egotistical ones. I was — and still am — very opportunistic when it comes to photography. I'm always ready to get started on a project if the circumstances are right but I don't always have anybody else around. I'm always guaranteed to be available.
That still created a couple of challenges that I needed to find ways round, though. My first solution wasn't great, but at least it got me started. I focused on video, rather than photography. Whenever I found an interesting location, I would set up the camera, get naked and move around within the frame. I'd select snapshots from the video and use Photoshop to edit the snapshots. None of those were of any use to me individually. They were far too small for that. It was only when I "stitched" them together into mosaics that I got anything remotely worthwhile.
The last thing that happened was that I got an iPhone, which meant I had a camera on me all the time. It was only marginally better than the one I was already using, and it took me a while to figure out some of the potential I suddenly had access to. At first I still felt the same limitations as before. But then one day, while I was sitting on a bus and randomly tinkering with the phone, it occurred to me that I could install a timer app. Things improved massively from there.
I went through a few apps before I found one that worked well. Most of them had extra functions that I didn't need and which got in the way. I found one that took 15 pictures at a time, and seemed fine in other respects, so I stuck with it for a while. Eventually I found a different one called, simply, "Fast Camera". I've used that app ever since.
I became compulsive. I compulsively took pictures, compulsively edited them, compulsively posted them onto the online gallery. Compulsively checked to see if there was feedback, compulsively responded to every single comment I received. I'd finally found a way to fill up all the empty hours that had previously been occupied by massage therapy.
I was even able to chart some improvement, along the way. Every so often, I'd look back over the pictures I'd posted maybe a month earlier, be horrified at how shit a lot of them were and set about mass purgings of the gallery. After a while, I realised that more and more of the older pictures were escaping deletion. I realised I must have started doing something right, somewhere along the way. I think it's fair to say that I didn't have a natural idea of what made a good picture, but I was definitely starting to learn.
I continued trying to get into other forms of modelling. I learned that student photographers always needed models, but couldn't afford to pay for them. I scrolled through adverts and watched for "TFP" provisos (this denoted that if you gave them Time, they'd give you Prints of the shoot.) I tried that for a while but it rarely worked out well.
One project was with a photographer who agreed that I could use any pictures we took together; he said he viewed it as a creative collaboration. We worked together for about three hours and a few days later, he emailed me five pictures. When I protested that he'd taken a lot more than this, he said he only ever shared the pictures that passed his standards. He also made sure that every single one of them was worthless. They looked good, but they had been deliberately reduced and wouldn't have been large enough to print onto a postcard. None of this contravened the terms of our agreement, but it was sneaky. Another photographer promised me that she'd sent the prints to my address but they never showed up.
An established photographer saw some of my work one day and got in touch. He had an idea for a fetish photoshoot that would involve me being tied up naked and blindfolded, with him waving his cock in my face. I looked through some of his work to get an idea of his general vibe and thought about it. I had to decide whether I was cool with what he had in mind; having a cock in my hand was one thing, but I'd never had one that close to my face. And I had to feel okay not just about the situation itself but also about the photographic evidence. After a while I agreed, asking him if I could bring a friend along. Apparently that wasn't cool. Due to the sensitive nature… etc… And so, I decided I didn't want to travel to a stranger's house on my own to be stripped and tied up.
This got me thinking, though… I'd never thought of modelling for that kind of picture but once the idea was in my head, it was difficult to shake. So far, my only gay experiences had consisted of "hand-stuff". I hadn't gotten all that intimate with another man's cock. I'd definitely thought about blowing other men, but there was a gulf between thinking about something like that and actually doing it. Still… a good photograph of myself with a mouth full of cock...? I liked the idea of it. I definitely liked the dramatic and erotic aesthetics that I was imagining.
Coincidentally, just a few months later, I found myself on my knees with a stranger's cock in my mouth. Not even for any kind of photography project. Just… circumstances. And opportunism. I'll talk about that, another time.
I still wasn't getting anywhere finding modelling work with other people, though. I either wasn't approaching them right, or they had no need of a male model. At least one fetish agency made it very clear that I was wasting their time. I misjudged them entirely; any modelling work I did with them would have been a play session primarily, with the photographic element as a secondary feature. I still plan to do that someday, when I finally get successful with my own work and have a bit more disposable income.
This wasn't the first time I'd tried modelling. I'd been making sporadic attempts since I was in my mid twenties. But every time I gave it a fresh shot, I somehow came up against different situations, different challenges, different sets of rules. Which meant that I never really became clear on what the actual rules were. This was, I realise in hindsight, mostly my own fault because every time I tried, I approached different types of business and became discouraged far too easily.
There was the stripper agency that I approached when I was in my twenties. The advert seemed legitimate at the time, but actually ended up more like an incredibly slapdash, rough-and-ready organisation. I auditioned in somebody's sitting room, trying to figure out how to back out of the situation with some dignity, while the three "interviewers" prompted me to demonstrate seductive dance moves on each other. At different times, each of them left the room, when — and I'm convinced of this — it got to be too funny and they could laugh discreetly where I couldn't see them. Work was promised, but it never came through.
There was the "Butlers-in-the-Buff" agency that I approached, when I was in my thirties. By then, the internet was much more established, so I had digital pictures that could be sent off easily. But when I called the agency to find out what was happening, I found myself speaking to an elderly woman who seemed a bit bewildered. She asked me how big my cock was, asked me how old I was, confirmed my phone number and then assured me that work was on the way.
A really promising moment, surprisingly, came from a magazine. I was still working as a massage therapist at the time, and when I got a letter (I still have this, somewhere) I told Nancy about it. She wasn't happy and she lectured me for fucking ages about professionalism. Nancy had previously encouraged me to pursue work as an escort, but suddenly had problems with me working as a model. I was starting to learn that her opinions were far from consistent.
Then I heard of a woman who made feminist porn. I travelled all the way down to a small town on the south coast of England to meet her for the interview. She gave me three DVDs, we had a coffee, I stayed in a B&B and thought this actually might go somewhere. It seemed promising, right up until I mentioned Cedric and used the words "intensely uncomfortable" to describe part of what happened. The mood changed after that. She'd wasted time and money on people before who weren't comfortable with what was going on and she suddenly thought I wasn't right. I'd just blown the interview.
In late 2009, I finally got lucky with the life modelling hen party agency. I joined an agency and within about a month was offered a contract. I was asked if I knew of any suitable locations. This wasn't something I had anticipated, but I did some quick scouting and found a suitable pub in the Grassmarket that had a private room at the top of the building. I was asked if I knew anybody who had a background in art who could run the classes. This was trickier, but I managed to find somebody. My resourcefulness was noted, so a few months after getting started as a model, I was asked if I wanted to take over the business and run it as my own in Scotland. 2009 started out pretty brutally for me, but ended pretty well. I was left astonished at how quickly a person's fortunes could change. This was the best promotion I've ever had in my life.
I gradually became more resourceful with my photography. I figured out ways to cope with my limitations and make them work for me. I still try to work for and with other people occasionally, but mostly I just do what I want. And occasionally — most flattering of all — other people see my pictures and ask to work for and with me. It feels like, even though I failed to get work as a model, I've just ended up doing it for myself.
For the first time ever, I found myself striking a really good balance with income and fun. I was enjoying what I was doing. The income was sporadic, but I was working for myself and that suited me. I was never cut out for "real work", anyway. I'd rather be skint than have to sell off little chunks of my life to somebody else so that they can make a profit.
Graham is a Scottish writer and a photographer who has had various experiences in the sex industry. He has always been a bit weird and struggled to fit in with other people. After a near-death experience and a diagnosis of autism, Graham stopped trying to follow the rules of society quite so hard. Things didn’t get a lot easier, but at least he knew the reason why he struggled.
Fetish and kink feature a lot in Graham's creative work. His writing is fairly direct, but his photography plays more into a mood or a vibe. There’s always lots of nudity.