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She Likes ‘em fast

Photographer Za-Hazzanani doesn’t care if her photos of male nudes make men feel uncomfortable. ‘That’s tough luck.’

Mitchel Raphael
National Post – October 19, 2000

‘I don’t think a sweet, mediocre, middle-of-the-road guy is worth more than the film,” says London-based photographer Za-Hazzanani, a woman who specializes in male erotica. “Men are like cars. You have the Volvo, the Fiat, you have the Ferrari—and I am looking for the Ferrari model.”

Isn’t that commodifying men by reducing them to a piece of meat? What about the devastating eating disorders? The inferiority complexes?

“That’s tough luck,” says the thirtyish Za-Hazzanani. ”[These images are] good because men have a lot of shaping up to do. They have been scruffy for generations. If men get some pressure on, even if they don’t go all the way for a six-pack, at least it forces them to try a little bit harder. That alone is very, very positive.”

She feels it’s about time that men were used to sell cars and fax machines: “Women are only bombarded with their own sex. That’s what men have done [with women] for generations. That’s why men are more turned on. Wherever they look, they see beautiful, exciting images of available women.”

Za-Hazzanani, who goes by a single name like Cher or Madonna, is one of four photographers showcased in a new book entitled Man: Photographs of the Male Nude. She is the sole woman in Man, not to mention one of the few female photographers in the world who specializes in male erotica—and perhaps the only one raised a Muslim. Aside from art books, her work is used for calendars, posters and postcards.

The energetic Za-Hazzanani was born into a prominent Orthodox Muslim family made up of landowners and police officers. In London, she often goes out in a disguise because her work has got her in trouble with the local Muslim community. As a child, her family resided in the Islamic Russian province of Uzbekistan, just north of Afghanistan. Later they moved to Italy where she would eventually model on the catwalks of Milan.

“We had arranged marriages. I was engaged before I was born. I grew up to believe that this little boy there is supposed to be my husband one day, but then I got very difficult and quickly became the black sheep.”

When she was eight, she persuaded one of the neighborhood boys to pose for her. “My first photograph, when I got a little camera, was of a male bum. My father developed it for me. I lost my camera because what I did was ‘indecent.’ ”

At age 12, she says she learned English by reading Playgirl magazine. “I wanted to read what was said about the male model in the Playgirl magazine.” What was remarkable was the fact she could even find Playgirl in Uzbekistan. “In the Muslim countries you don’t even see much female nudity.”

But Za-Hazzanani says there were some forms of erotica in her region of the world. “Erotica is not such a taboo in the Middle East,” she says. “There is very erotic poetry, music, but visual erotica is non-existent. Now it’s coming. But it’s coming in a very sleazy form. It’s coming in a pornographic form. We don’t get the art form. We get the junk from the States.”

About five years ago, Za-Hazzanani the model realized she preferred to be behind the camera. She was also depressed over the state of women photographers shooting naked men.

“Most females, if they do a male nude now and then, they do very down-to-earth normal guys, a little bit of a loose belly, he’s nothing special. But he may be nice, he may be kind. He’s reading a book, he’s a caring man. He will discuss problems with you.

“I don’t like that.

“My man is basically only in bed. They are not running around the park. They’re not going to the cinema, they never repair the car, they’re not cooking-in-the-kitchen pictures. He’s available, he is turned on, he’s beautiful and passionate. [It’s an extreme], this power and masculinity and on the other end sensitivity and sensuality and passion—I really believe men are this way. That’s why I like men.”

A friend once told her: “You are the most typical gay guy I have ever met.” Za-Hazzanani says: “My body is a girl, but my mind is like a guy’s.”

To find her models, Za-Hazzanani searches in select bars throughout Europe. “I pick them up, I shoot them, I seduce them – I try at least – and then I sell them [the photos, that is],” she says. “The Italian and the Greek and the former Yugoslavian guys, [those] are the places I am digging. English [men] are not working very well. I don’t know what’s wrong with them, but something isn’t happening there in the look. They have no good face features.”

Za-Hazzanani works alone. She does the lighting and set design. “I am also the fluffer,” she says proudly. Even for the odd gay model she uses? “I still fluff. I’ll tell him to close his eyes. I did it with one. I didn’t talk through the session so that helped. I look tomboyish anyways. I’m not with these big titties and the big bum situation.”

About 70% of her models become her boyfriends. “I don’t have that many models, so it’s not a big deal,” she says. Man contains a few of her model conquests. While on a Greek island, the long-haired hunk on pages 91 and 95 “was the room service who I seduced. He tried to make the bed, as you can see.” Are they still together? “He’s in Greece now, so I’m not sure at the moment. But I’m always available for new possibilities. You must mention that by the way.”

On Page 105 is a man with a hairy chest and long hair. Za-Hazzanani said she was told that “in the States they say that the model must have no body hair. In Europe they don’t give a sh—. I don’t listen to any of them. It depends on the guy, what kind of hair he has. If he has hair that is very beautiful in a nice silky pattern then the hair is beautiful and he’ll keep it on. If he has messy hair, like a lot of Greek people, then I have to shave him off.”

On page 103 of Man that same model was shaved and put in a bubble bath for another long shoot. “When he came home at six in the morning he had a big rash on his body and on that part down there.” His wife divorced him. “That picture there destroyed his marriage.”

Many of her photos in Man are of Peter Sernling, a Swede who now lives in London. “He wasn’t my boyfriend,” says Za-Hazzanani, “but he was a very good rehearsal.” The two have remained friends.

The 32-year-old Sernling is currently a fitness instructor and still models. He says that throughout his career Za-Hazzanani is the only female who has ever photographed him.

“It’s much more fun with a girl,” says Sernling. “You work a bit harder. You get more of a chemistry going. As a woman, she can often see what will be sensual and working as a postcard or calendar. You get confidence from her. Obviously there are some advantages with her being an ex-model. She’s very energetic. She shoots a lot of film. She’s tough, but she’s also very kind-hearted. She knows what she wants. She’s also a good flirt, but so am I.”

Over the years, Za-Hazzanani has become a victim of her own photography: “You could say these model boyfriends of mine have spoiled me. I don’t want to be body conscious, but I have become this way.”

She says it’s been hard to maintain a relationship with many of her model boyfriends. “I lose them in the end, because when I start to shoot the next model they get jealous because they think I will do to the new guy the same as what I did to them.

“I am incredibly unfaithful. I always have two men at the same time. I think two men make one perfect man. I wish I could put them under the same roof, but somehow they never accept it.”
Would either of them be allowed to have another woman on the side?

“No,” she says using a stern tone for the first and only time during the interview. “I don’t like that.”

Za-Hazzanani is convinced she’s in a growing market. She feels that as women’s buying power increases these types of images will be used more and more to sell products. She may be right. Recently, a tampon commercial used several buff men on top of each other in a pyramid formation.

“Guys should not be scared of these images,” she says. “Guys should encourage these images because that will help. They will get some sexy, excited bunnies coming home.”