Earth Worship, award-winning fine art photographer Steven Menendez’s latest exhibition—running at The SoHo Project Space in New York Thursday, March 30th – Saturday, April 8th, 2023—features a stunning series of landscapes and sensual portraits of male nudes “in states of bliss in the majesty of nature”.
Here, The Queer Review offers a preview of some of the featured works, which were all taken over the last three years, both locally in Queens, the Bronx, and Fire Island, as well as in remote locations in Greece, Hawaii, and the Everglades. Menendez is proud to dedicate Earth Worship to his late friend, the filmmaker, photographer, visual and performance artist, James Bidgood, and there will be a special screening of his queer cinema classic Pink Narcissus on Friday, March 31st.
Menendez credits Bidgood as an inspiration, and Bidgood was in turn an admirer of Steven’s work, describing it as a “fusing together of uncontrolled nature and the human form in an equally natural state, adding his splendid vision to what is truly to be treasured about mankind”.
Ahead of the opening of Earth Worship, Steven Menendez spoke with The Queer Review about his approach to creating the photographs and the themes that connect them. “Growing up gay in the 1970s, I never saw the kind of images of men that I was craving”, Menedez reflects. “I don’t mean sexualized images, but ones depicting beautiful male sensuality with a combination of strength and grace. One of the attributes that you don’t normally see associated with men as being positive in Western culture is sensitivity, which is often seen as a weakness. I love showing that duality within the spirit of the male form.”
“Throughout my life, nature has always been my greatest inspiration”, continues the photographer. “It’s where I find peace. It’s where I recharge my batteries. It’s where I see the glory and the beauty of the universe. For many years before I started shooting, I’d visit isolated places in nature for my own personal fulfillment. When I began shooting fine art figurative nudes, I returned to all my favorite places and brought my subjects with me to try to give a visual representation of what I’d experienced there. So these images are a reflection of my own spiritual experience in these spaces where I leave the binds of society.”
“I shoot on location in remote natural landscapes, that’s the basis of this show, which is an ongoing theme in my work that will never end”, comments Menendez. “The images in Earth Worship are about connecting with the Earth as deeply as we can. In the Western world, we’ve lost touch with the need to go into nature and to be alone, and the ability to go within. That’s why in a lot of the images the models are either gazing downwards or their eyes are closed as a symbol of going within oneself, in a reflection of the Buddha or other ancient godhead figures. It’s the opposite perspective of the way the male nude is often portrayed on social media where there are a lot of hyper sexualized images. There’s nothing wrong with sexualized work, I’m not critiquing it in a poor way, but we’re so saturated with it when it comes to the figurative nude. My work is sensual, but it’s not overly sexualized. I’m trying to create imagery where you’re seeing a balance of all things together.”
Menendez shares when he first encountered the work of James Bidgood. “As a teenager, I was lucky enough to grow up in Miami where there was an arthouse theater. I was already friends with the gays by the time I was in high school. They were older than me and they took me to see a lot of art films, including James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus when I was around 16 years old. I also saw the films of Jean Cocteau and Federico Fellini, who were all very influential on me.”
“At that time, Pink Narcissus was credited to “Anonymous”, Menendez explains, “so I didn’t know who had made it until I moved to New York and discovered who James was. Later, I learned that he was living in the city and found him on Facebook. We eventually met in person at the Leslie Lohman Museum and hit it off. I was lucky enough to hang out with him at his apartment and talk with him about his work, his process, and his life.”
“There’s definitely a thread between his work and mine”, Menendez continues. “He really inspired me to shoot the figurative male nude in a very beautiful way. He was one of the first modern artists to do it in that manner, in a way that reflects Classical Greco Roman art. He was very sensitive to lines and beauty, and when he saw my work, he would say, ‘oh, you can do it in real life, I had to make it in my studio!’ But I was blown away by what he was able to create in his studio. He was such a magnificent artist, creating all those sets, and costumes, and the lighting. He was a one man show, which was mind-blowing to me. He’s one of the most influential people in my life who inspired me to keep going. To have validation from someone like him meant so much. Charles Leslie, who founded the Leslie-Lohman, is another similar figure in my life. They’re both people who verbally, emotionally, and spiritually supported me and kept pushing me to keep going.”
“It’s important to me that I let as many other people as possible know about those who came before us, who paved the way for us to create our work”, says Menendez. “It’s vital that their legacy gets passed on to future generations. James Bidgood recently passed, so I wanted to honor his memory, his legacy, his work and our friendship. Then there’s also the pure pleasure of seeing the film, that magnificent piece of art that he created, so that’s another reason I wanted to show it.”
Steven Menendez: Earth Worship runs Thursday, March 30th until Saturday, April 8th, 2023 at The SoHo Project Space, 127B Prince Street, New York, NY 10012.
Opening Reception: Thursday March 30th. 6-8pm.
Remembering James Bidgood & Viewing Of “Pink Narcissus”
Saturday, March 31st, 6–9pm. *Film starts at 6:30pm.*
Closing Party: Friday, April 7th, 6–9pm.
Closing Day & Artist Talk
Saturday, April 8th, 3pm-4pm.
For more details head to The SoHo Project Space website.