Q&A: Michael Alago

The photographer (and music-industry vet) has a hot new book on the shelves.

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  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Photograph: Michael Alago

  • Michael Alago, photograph by Isauro Cairo

Photograph: Michael Alago

Fans of arty-erotic gay photography are no doubt familiar with the hypermasculine images of Michael Alago. What many don't know, though, is that he spent years as a music-industry exec. Among his accomplishments there: bringing a little band called Metallica to the national stage. His latest collection of images, Brutal Truth (the follow-up to his sold-out Rough Gods volume), is out now ($62) and includes images of hunky, often heavily tattooed men sprawled in rough urban settings. From Los Angeles while rushing between photo shoots, he answered a few questions from TONY via e-mail.

Where do you find your models? I find the men I shoot online [editor's note: Think you've got what it takes? E-mail info@roughgods.com] and on the streets of every city I wander.

Do you have a favorite subject out of everyone you've shot? Or a specific favorite image? The Tim Dax orange portrait is a favorite. It's strong, handsome and scary.

For years, chiseled, hairless models dominated everything from gay porn to Times Square billboards. A rougher, much less manicured look—typical of your portraits—now seems to be closer to the mainstream. Why do you think that changed? Everything is cyclical. For me, I have always loved the busted nose of a boxer, the scar on the cheek that tells a story, and the tattoos on a muscular physique that say something about a man's personality and the life he has lived.

Before you focused full-time on photography, you worked in the music business. You signed Metallica to Elektra in 1984; did you know at the time that you'd stumbled upon what would become one of the most successful bands in the world? Yes, I had an extraordinary feeling about them when I heard their independent record Kill 'Em All. It was wild, and the energy was like a head-on collision. Just incredible. I went to the West Coast and saw them live and knew I had to sign them. The rest is history.

In Brutal Truth, many of the portraits are shot in outdoor urban settings. How do you decide where to shoot these men?I choose the subject carefully, then just decide: Is it a flowering garden we want, or a patina-like destroyed wall we want for atmosphere.

On top of being a record exec and a photographer, you've also published poetry. What's next?I will be 52 in October, and this is actually stage two of my life—it involves photography, making records, and writing poems, rants and observations.

Alago signs copies of Brutal Truth April 26 at Leslie Lohman Gallery. 

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