Interview by Gert Jonkers
Photography by Dave Butt
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On Queen’s Road in Banbury, Oxfordshire lives David Butt, or Dave Butt, as he calls himself these days. Dave is a photographer of the most amazingly exciting kind: the naked guys he shoots are just normal guys with normal bodies and erect penises, posing in front of Dave’s camera. He doesn’t care much about tanned gym bodies or retouched photos, and neither do I. I’d never heard of Dave until I found one his books in a second-hand bookstore in Amsterdam. I think Dave’s realistic world-view is a parallel porn dream come true. And I love his name. Dave is 52 years old, and on a Tuesday night in September he awaited me in the hall of Banbury station.
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Gert: Is Butt a common last name in the UK?
Dave: No, but it’s not obscure either.
It is such an apt name for the work you make.
Maybe, but it’s not always a practical name. If you do an image search for ‘David Butt’, the first thing you get is a picture of a rear view of Michelangelo’s David.
And Americans seem to think Butt is a made-up name. I didn’t come across the term ‘butt’, for backside, until the early ’80s or so, because it’s not a British word for backside. We say bum. Once I was trying to check my credit rating, and one of the sites refused to give me a rating because it thought I was using ‘offensive’ language. After about four attempts, I thought: ‘Oh, forget it.’
Do all emails sent to or from your account end up in the spam box?
No, because I don’t use my name in emails.
That’s true: you use Suntown Photography instead. Is that also how you credit your photos these days?
Yes, ’cause in a way it’s nice to separate my professional life from my private life.
Why ‘Suntown’? Is that an ironic take on dreary Banbury?
Oh no, nothing clever. I tried to come up with an original name, and it happened to be a sunny day.
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Okay, so your real name is Dave Butt and you live on Queen’s Road…
I know! Before my ex-partner and I moved in, I hadn’t even thought of it, but friends were, like: ‘How appropriate.’
How did you get into the exciting business of photographing super-normal hot guys?
I’m one of those people who take lots of pictures on holiday, and a friend of mine wanted to get into modeling, so he was, like: ‘Hold on, you’ve got a camera; can you take some pictures of me?’ I quite enjoyed doing that, so I took some more pictures. This must have been 25 years ago. At the time, Athena, the postcard and poster shop, was still very big, so I sent them some of my work. I got a nice note back, saying: ‘Thank you very much, but it’s not what we’re looking for at the moment.’ Then a friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you send them to Him magazine?’ Do you remember Bryan Derbyshire?
No. Who’s he?
Bryan used to edit Him, and right after the first time I wrote him, he used one of my pictures on the front cover. First submission on a front cover – you’d think that’s the way to go! After that I started getting work published in Him and Euroboy and Buddy and Du & Ich, and then Aubrey Walter from Gay Men’s Press contacted me, as he was interested in doing a book. We did The English Country Lad, and that must have been quite a success, because they wanted to do more, so then we made Young & Hairy and Country Shoots.
When was this?
’96 to ’99. But then things started changing. I was used to sending a bunch of shoots to magazines and they’d pick what they liked, but all of a sudden what I was supplying wasn’t what magazines were looking for. Editors started pushing for a particular type. I remember looking at Euroboy and you could have taken the heads off the models and moved them around and it wouldn’t have made any difference. That’s when I lost interest in adult photography. Also, the rules in this country got a lot more relaxed on what could be published, so magazines seemed to be pushing for a lot more hardcore stuff.
In what sense did the rules change?
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When I started, you couldn’t show a full erection. Well, you could, but it couldn’t rise above 90 degrees. Sometimes you would try to get around it by having a guy lean forward – as long as it wasn’t hori-zontal. In some respect that made it more interesting. These days it’s, like: get it hard, stand there, and click, click, click.
It used to be more of a challenge?
Yes, you had to really work for your image. It’s one thing photographing a guy with an erection or some guys together having sex, fairly vanilla, and another to really shoot in-your-face types of images. I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. I’m not interested in making tacky porn.
But now you’re shooting again.
I am. Three or four years ago I got interested in it again. I made my website and put up my profile on modelmayhem.com and started getting guys emailing me who were interested in modeling.
That’s nice that they contact you. I was wondering: how do you get these guys to pose? Where do you find them? I’m jealous, as I can’t even seem to talk an exhibitionist out of his clothes.
In the old days, I’d see guys walking down the street and I’d walk up to them and say, ‘Here’s my business card. If you’re interested, give me a call.’ Maybe 60 to 70 percent would say they’re not interested. Out of the ones who took the card, 50 to 60 percent would never get in touch.
I imagine you’d need a thick skin for that.
Actually, most guys are flattered that you’ve approached them. I’ve only ever been told to fuck off twice. Most people are, like: ‘Thanks, mate. Not interested.’
And the ones that get in touch, do they realize it’s going to be naked and erections and the whole shebang?
My card says ‘We specialise in male images’ so those who get in touch somehow have made up their minds that they’re up for it. It’s not fashion work. And when it comes down to the shoot, I say what I would like them to do, but there’s no pressure at all. I just tell them: ‘Do what you’re comfortable doing and we’ll go from there.’ It’s far easier to just go with it and see what happens. It doesn’t always have to end with a raging hard-on and ejaculation. I think once you remove the pressure to perform, most guys relax and will come back to do more work.
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Do you pay them to pose?
Yes. Nominal fees. It’s more of a gesture, as the photos can be published. They sign a model release, so I pay them for modeling.
There’s something incredibly normal and un-beautiful about the guys you shoot. They have bellies and pimples, etc.
They’re regular guys. That’s what I like. I don’t like them to shave their body hair and I don’t like them too groomed.
From the captions on your website, I gather that most of them are straight.
Why is that? Is it because 90 percent of the population is supposedly straight?
I think once a straight guy decides to do it, he actually does it, whereas I’ve seen some gay guys getting precious about it. I find it easier to work with straight guys. But you can never really tell. Once I was shooting this guy who said he was straight, but he was enjoying himself so much that he asked if there was anybody I could call to join him. So I called my friend, who came over, and they got it going for hours. They couldn’t stop!
Did you photograph it?
Yes. Which wasn’t easy. Getting the angles right is quite difficult, because suddenly an arm or a leg is in the wrong place…
So why do straight guys pose for you with a hard-on or their ass cheeks spread? Is it the money?
They’re exhibitionists. I had one guy who came with his girlfriend, and she sat there for the entire shoot, being like: ‘I don’t like you doing this, or doing that…’ A week later he phoned me up, saying, ‘I’m really sorry for that, but can we do another shoot without the lady?’
|Portrait by Gert Jonkers|
Is it hard to not fall in love with your models? Have you ever ended up dating one of your guys?
I do photograph guys that I like – that’s the criterion. When I first started, god, it wasn’t always easy, and at the time I was in a relationship and my partner used to think that something had to be going on. On occasion things do happen during shoots – I’d be lying if I said nothing ever happened. But no relationship has ever come out of it. It’s just easier to not get into relationships with the guys. There was this one guy that I photographed whom I liked a lot. We were on the phone with each other for hours, and he used to come over every weekend. Just when I was about to ask him if he wanted to move in, he said, like: ‘Uh, I need to tell you something. I got engaged last week.’
That’s a bummer. I noticed that your LinkedIn profile says you’re a bookkeeper.
Yes. I work for a loan company, but I’ve recently done a bookkeeping course because I have been made redundant three times now. I figure that if I can set up my own business as a bookkeeper and get the photography website up and running, it will make me independent.
How was the bookkeeping course?
I quite enjoyed it. I thought it was fun: I like the detailed aspect of it.
It’s a good job because everybody needs a bookkeeper now and again.
Yes, and they’re about to change the rules in the UK. It used to be that everybody with a turnover of £50,000 or more had to go to an accountant to get their books signed off. But in the future, businesses with less than £500,000 turnover can just go to a bookkeeper. They don’t need an accountant, meaning there’ll be more work for me.
Was it an easy exam?
I’m still waiting for my results. I hate exams – I’m not an exam person. So until I’ve seen the piece of paper saying that I passed, I don’t know.
Wouldn’t you like to make another Dave Butt book?
I’d love to make another book, but for now I’m concentrating on launching the new site. I recently started a blog page, which seems to be what’s bringing people to the site. I’m selling calendars and I’m sorting out a members-only section where people can pay to see the material that in the old days would have gone into a magazine.
What would you charge members?
It needs to be a reasonable amount. $10.95 per month or so? What do you think? I know it’s not hardcore porn. It’s erotic male images. I think there’s people out there who like their photography slightly softer. I notice that with the calendars I’m making: people seem to buy the least hardcore ones.
You’re also selling postcards. They’re nice, but who buys postcards these days? Is it a business?
Not at all. Well, some people collect them.
Do you still send postcards?
I do. Not as many as I used to.
So once you’ve launched the new site, how often do you think you will have new photos on it?
I’ll add a new set of photos each week.
That’s a lot! Well, at least you save a lot of time by not photoshopping the shit out of your models.
I think you should see the guys as they are. There’s nothing worse than when somebody turns up and they’re totally different from the way they look in the picture they’d sent. I had that a couple of times with models I’d booked, where I thought: ‘Why did you bother sending a photo?’
How did you do it in the analog days? I guess you had your photos printed at a lab?
We had this small camera shop in town, run by a brother and sister. She was in her late 40s and he had retired and he came to the shop to help her. I think they quite enjoyed the material I gave them to work on – they were happy to see some pictures of nice young men. I would go and collect my photos after closing time, and they would go over all the images with me. They’d be, like: ‘You’ve over-exposed this one; beware of backlight; this one’s out of focus…’ They would give notes on my technique, in a purely professional way.
That’s nice. It’s important to have a dialogue about one’s work. Is there anybody that you talk about work with these days?
Yes, that’s why I’m a member of the London Camera Club.