When photographer Michelle Ma, a Bushwick resident and Australian native, heard that one of the local bars in her neighborhood had decided to sell a calendar of scantily dressed women, she was annoyed. “It set me off,” Ma told me. “I thought, ‘Here we go again, another calendar full of trashy photos of women.'” But Ma decided that instead of just getting mad, she would get even by shooting a similar calendar full of Bushwick men. The resulting exhibit, Babes of Bushwick, launched at Nicholas Street watering hole Bodega last week. The invitation read: “The days of gratuitous boobie calenders are behind us. The time has come for chest hair and unbridled masculinity.”
Babes of Bushwick isn’t your typical beefcake calendar. The models are people Ma knows from around the neighborhood, not strapping muscle-bound lads that look like refugees from Chippendales. All of them live in Bushwick, work in local bars and coffee shops, and some play in local bands, so the fellas are familiar faces for a lot of people in the neighborhood,” Ma said. “I had been talking about my idea for a while with everyone, and after different levels of badgering they all agreed to pose for me, some more enthusiastically than others.”
“At first it was going to be a totally trashy oiled up fireman-esque thing,” Ma explained. “But the more I thought about it, and the more friends of mine signed up to model ,the more I realized that that was exactly what I didn’t want, because why would I want to objectify my friends in a degrading way, you know? I decided that I wanted the photos to be tasteful, not overtly gratuitous or sleazy.”
Ma was surprised at the enthusiastic response of bar patrons, many of whom are clamoring for a copy of the calendar once it’s printed. “Maybe it’s a case of low expectations, because it really started as a whimsical thing, but I’m really blown away by how positive the response has been,” Ma said. “I think that the choice to take the shoots seriously and make the photos intimate and tasteful in a way that showcased the models’ character really made an impression.”
Babes of Bushwick is currently on view at The Bodega, at 24 St. Nicholas Street.