Casual Encounters

Interview by
Danny Calvi
Photography by
Michael Max McLeod

It was my good buddy Shannon who alerted me to the existence of 'Casual Encounters'. Not the personals section on Craigslist, but rather the well-crafted zine by 39-year-old photographer Michael Max McLeod who currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. 'Casual Encounters' grew out of a series of 'photographic hook-ups' with guys who, like Mike, found themselves bypassing the mainstream gay scene in their search for male companionship. He met them online mostly, like on Craigslist, and photographed them against a backdrop of dusty Southwestern interiors. Quite unlike most cut-and-paste, xeroxed zines, 'Casual Encounters' is minimal, precise — downright anal.

Danny: You used to work for ‘Playboy’ magazine… Did you ever get to go to the Playboy Mansion?
Mike: I practically worked there.
Were there any other gays at the Playboy Mansion?
Maybe one or two.
You always hear about things going down in the grotto…
The grotto is sort of humid, and it smells a little musty. If you wanna hook up at the Playboy Mansion, you might as well go back by the monkeys and the peacocks.
Did working at ‘Playboy’ give you the impetus to start your own publication?
Well, the writers and the photographers were having a lot more fun. I was always stuck behind a computer. I didn’t want to do that anymore, so I decided to make a change.
Do you hookup with the guys you photograph?
I think of them more like photographic hookups. There have been times when I thought I was going to take somebody’s portrait, but it ended up more like a date. But I haven’t actually published any of those pictures.
Do you meet all of your subjects online?
Sometimes on Manhunt, or it could be Bear411. Sometimes on Craigslist. On Craigslist, it seems like things happen a lot faster, like, I’m ready! Come over now! Also there’s the element of surprise with Craigslist because I wouldn’t always know what people looked like. I would walk into a situation totally blind sometimes and would have to improvise.
Do you tend to meet your models in cheap motels?
I have, but mostly I want to meet guys in their house. It’s funny, all of the houses and interiors in Phoenix look the same. Everyone has the same boring beige carpeting and the same textured walls.
You’re using UV light in some of those motel photos, like Room Raiders on MTV. Did you find any tell-tale stains?
At the time, I didn’t realize that you need this chemical called luminol. You can buy it online. That’s what makes the blood and the semen glow. If you look closely, there’s a big yellow stain on the edge of the bed.
You’ve also made a zine, ‘The Pleasure Palace’, about your local adult video arcade.
I’ve been photographing them for a couple years now. I started going to all of them in the Phoenix metro area where there are like twelve, thirteen arcades.
What about those places interests you?
I’m interested in how they are all the same, but all different — how they conform to a local ordinance. Here in Phoenix, it’s technically illegal to have any sort of sexual activity in the booths. They’ve installed mirrors so the staff or vice squad can walk through for a quick look and see inside of every booth. But what ends up happening is: men end up using the mirrors to look into other booths, so there’s this whole voyeuristic quality to them.
The ones in Tempe actually have doors that you can lock. As long as you have money going into the machine, you can be in the booth with whoever you want. Some are much nicer than others. Some have like really old video monitors which are all messed up and blurry, but then others are like super high tech multi-touchscreen with like a hundred channels.
Have you ever visited any buddy booths in Portland, Oregon?
There’s some really fancy ones with two booths which are separated by a piece of glass. You can control the opacity of the glass, so it’ll become kind of milky, kind of foggy, if you’d rather not see the guy on the other side. Then — hello mister — with a touch of a button, the whole thing becomes transparent.
Oh wow, it’s so futuristic… Like the dressing rooms at the Prada store.

BUTT - Web_mike
Mike made this self-portrait after his recent treatment for gynecomastia.

Are you pleased with the result of your operation?
Yeah, it’s been a month now since the surgery. I felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body, trapped in a man’s body.
How long did it take to heal?
In that picture, I was still bruised, still swollen. That was ten days after the surgery. Now the scars are basically gone, but I’m still a little bit sore.
Were you awake while it was happening or did they put you under?
I guess they call it twilight. There were several times that I woke up during the surgery. If I lifted my head and looked down, I could watch what they were doing. They slice open the nipple and then they dig in with forceps and a scalpel, and they cut out all the breast tissue. Then, once they have the breast tissue out, they liposuction the fat out.
Was it painful?
It was more annoying than painful. I had to wear this compression vest to make sure everything stayed in place, and it was so tight and so uncomfortable.
And was the procedure covered by your health insurance?
No, I wish it was.

Issue six of ‘Casual Encounters’ is out 1July. In New York City, pick one up at Printed Matter, or get them online from Mike’s DIY publishing arm, Goodbye Ranch.

Published on 08 June 2012