Who’s your favorite photographer? Nowadays it’s rare to admire the person behind the camera rather than the one in front of it, but in the case of Joshua Darling, it is hard not to be captivated by his incredible artwork and life story. We had the chance to chat with the Los Angeles–based artist to talk about his craft and showcase 15 of the shots that best describe him.
Playboy.com: What got you into photography?
Darling: Photography has been in my family for quite a while. My grandfather was an art patron, he lived in Frank Lloyd Wright’s house in the ’40s, he was best friends with Man Ray and eventually I inherited some of my grandfather’s photo gear. In his time my grandfather was a young, good-looking guy, a genius whose IQ rivaled Einstein’s, a psychologist and a doctor, and he later turned out to be the prime suspect—in fact some people think the case is closed—in the Black Dahlia murder. I knew him as this kindly old grandfather.
That’s kind of a theme I’m working on, his legacy and his ideas of beauty. I only bring it up because my photo impulse probably started there. My mother was decent with a camera but I wanted to be a painter when I was much younger despite being really awful at painting. Eventually I worked in the theater, where I was trained in storytelling, while I was living in New York and trying to make ends meet. I already had a knack for it, but to cut a long story short, I started shooting theater people. So it was an entrusted legacy; it was inevitable that I’d have a camera.
"The Adventuress" Sovereign Syre, St. Lucy River, Florida
2009. We rowed out in a tiny boat past crocodiles in dark water. Magical day.
First of a long collaboration.
Playboy.com: Was it strange for you to go from theater photography to nude photographic portraits?
Darling: Those things happened quickly together from the onset. It’s so funny the way life’s plot unfolds. One of my dearest friends is a successful playwright in New York City and he had been part of the early days of what we all know of as pay sites back when that was a formidable and viable thing. [laughs] He was a core part of a team that made these once-megasites like Met Art, Femjoy and Abby Winters. These were huge companies when people would pay for content back then. He was involved in that world as almost a side job. By day he was this successful playwright, but he funded a lot of it through the adult industry in ways I just didn’t understand. At that time I had already had this weird job where these companies would send me around the world to teach men how to have better social skills with women. I learned a lot doing that job, but was it ever daunting. They would fly me around the world and I would be in a room with 20 very sweet, probably financially well off but extremely socially anxious dudes. That was not easy! So given this combination of skills, my friend came to me one day and explained that the adult industry is built around people like me. I am a photographer who can, on a good day, talk to women. “There’s an opening for you,” he said, and I’ll never forget that. Then he brought me on to shoot during the early days of pay sites. I really cut my teeth there because I was sent up and down the East Coast for various companies to shoot content and I basically crafted my own aesthetic and I learned along the way.
"Heaven Is a Place on Earth with You" Ana Foxxx and Vanessa Veracruz, Calabasas, California 2014. I love anything-goes collaborations. We ditched park rangers to make pretty glam on a mountain top. They were better rock climbers than I, it should be said.
Playboy.com: Was that hard for you?
Darling: I did go back and learn some photography, but it was basically me being sent to someone’s house in the sticks of Florida and making her garage look interesting while her boyfriend ODed in the next room. Being thrust into these totally guerilla situations was akin to theater-making. With theater you are given this black box and, well, you have to do something with it and tell a story. Even though I learned and evolved and grew to have production value, budgets and access to wonderful named models, I still value the ability to make something with nothing. I don’t know what I’d do with a huge budget, to be honest. I like simplicity and suggestions. My arrival into photography and my arrival to sexy art nude photography, they happened sort of at the same time and I’m grateful that it worked out well for me. [laughs] Sometimes well.
Playboy.com: How do you handle a shoot?
Darling: The manifestation of the image is equally related to the experience. That’s everything to me; it’s 100 percent of what I do. I try to create a communicative, beautiful, magical day wherein I’m getting these happy accidents, moments where this dream, this fantasy world I’ve created accidentally looks real and connected in a way that we understand. You can learn anything in seven hours, but it takes about seven years to do that really well. This is my eighth year now where I feel that I’m personally manifesting exactly what I want every single time and people are responding to it in every way I hope. It’s been an evolution, but in this past year, in my seven-year mark, it seems that it’s happening with more frequency.
"Peaches" Maga, NYC 2008. Shot for Gods Girls. At the end of the day the floor was slick with peach nectar to achieve this moment of whimsy.
Playboy.com:Do you have words of advice for new photographers?
Darling:Make sure they have a vision and not just pictures of hot naked chicks, because in the end, what is that? That’s nothing. What are you trying to say? What is your point of view? Is this a love story or a document? We’ve been documenting beautiful naked women literally since the dawn of time. If you don’t have a point of view or an aesthetic, there is no point and you’ll get lost in the endless amount of content that comes out every day. Find what you’re passionate about, find what you connect to. Looking at my stuff now and answering that question, I’m thinking to myself, “What am I doing? What am I celebrating?” For me, I grew up on a sailboat as a kid, traveling all over the world, which means I had a very bohemian upbringing. I never lived in one country for long but I did live in Miami in the mid ’80s and it was this weirdly idyllic time. Now, looking at my work, a lot of it is about little romances. They often have to do with travel, often have to do with love. It seems to be a theme in what I’m doing. I was relieved to see a pattern of little love stories. I see it as I’m taking a photograph of someone I could be in love with just for that day. [laughs] I’m passionate about making a little world, to make a story specific. I bring that up because for those that are learning, you can figure out how to take a technical photo soon enough, but if you don’t have a point of view it means nothing. The nicest thing that was ever said to me is that I shoot like a woman; I thought that was very cool.
"Your Own Personal Jesus" Laura Ava, Beverly Hills, California.
Saw Laura dancing at a pool party in Miami and knew we needed to create
together. A beautiful spirit.
Playboy.com:Tell us about your Darling House collective; I really love it.
Darling:Darling House was an idea that came up between me and my creative partner, Sovereign Syre, who was once my romantic partner but we are now closer together than ever in how we’re creating. We were together romantically for three years and now we’re together for the same amount of time creating without the romantic aspect. Darling House is a collective of photographers, authors and artists who are trying to cultivate or share their idea of sincerity and frontier sexuality. Up until now it’s just been a small boutique of things. I was adamant that we would not charge because I wanted to be a sincere, kind and passionate point of view... Super sexy, no doubt! [laughs] I took the time to create the collection of individuals that I wanted to promote. We are launching the site in the next month or two in the way that I had originally imagined it. There will be a Darling of the Month, which is where we will celebrate one formative personality in American sexuality per month. I’m not talking about a model; I’m talking about someone who’s having a dialogue, like Cindy Gallop or Buck Angel. We are also teaming up with the feminist magazine Whore! out of San Francisco, who truly make a beautiful product. The content of Darling House will be made into a glossy, beautiful quarterly magazine in the spirit of Eros, a late-’60s hardcover magazine which Marilyn Monroe was all over. So aside from partnering with Whore!, which is a great ally of mine, we’re finally launching the site officially since it’s been sort of in beta for quite some time. I’m really passionate about it and it’s been my baby. I’ve been able to connect with artists who I’m so impressed by, who I am just so awestruck by; they have these wonderful points of view.