Back to Writing / 3-09-2004

Bay Area photographer Craig Morey has been shooting photography for over thirty years. Beginning in 1988, working on assignment for Penthouse, Morey began creating a series of striking black and white nudes which appeared in numerous publications in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Morey also began to find beauty in the art of bondage. He spoke with us about his models and creative process. Click the above image to view his work.

Eros Zine: When did you start shooting photography? Why?

Craig Morey: I had an interest in photography and images as a child. I used to clip out pages from Look and Life, and of course the Sears Catalog. I saved magazine illustrations of the "Breck Girls" (shampoo ads) before I even understood why I was doing it.

I used to take family snaps on vacations - annoying my family most of the time. Then in college I started dating an "older woman", a senior, who was heavily into photography (see online interview). Through her influence, and a desire to get into something in higher education more interesting than my psychology major, I started taking photo classes and then got hooked.

Sez G: It looks like you do most of your work in the studio. Do you prefer this over location shooting? Do you think it's more or less difficult to capture intimacy in this setting?

Craig Morey: Yes, I do most of my work in the studio, or indoors. I love having complete control over the lighting and being able to compose the structure and luminosity of the image rather than having to work with what the weather may provide.

Unlike a photojournalist or a street photographer, I'm not trying to "capture" so much as "create". I'm making Icons rather than trying to find decisive moments (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Also, working in an enclosed space, in a quiet (usually) environment is helpful for me in getting a good response from a model or a portrait subject. There are few distractions to keep us from forming a short term bond - a sort of partnership working to make a great photo, which is how I see my photo sessions.

Sez G: What is the process you go through in choosing your models? What is your relationship with them? How much of your shooting is staged and how much is spontaneous?

Craig Morey: I'm in the very fortunate position that many models now come to me, after having seen my work, and ask to be photographed. This immediately saves me the time and effort of trying to explain my work to someone who may have no interest in posing for this kind of imagery.

When a model is motivated to seek me out, I already have one of the most important features of a successful shoot - an interested subject, someone who is very likely to understand what I'm doing and work with me to make the shoot a success.

I think many models treat this interaction as they might a visit to their doctor or therapist. They know I'm a professional, and that I've seen hundreds of naked women, so they tend to be much less timid with me. The psychology of modeling would be a fascinating study, and I don't pretend to understand what motivates a woman to get in front of my camera, but it's clear to me that many of the models I shoot are as excited about act of being photographed, or being observed, as I am about looking at them though the lens.

I have no rigid guidelines about who I will or won't shoot, at least in terms of physical characteristics. I do look for great faces first - faces that show some depth and self awareness.

I usually make a few sketches ahead of a shoot - visual notes to guide me and remind me of things I may want to try with a particular model. We go over these at the beginning of the session, so she'll have an idea of what I'm thinking of doing. During the shoot, these ideas can change quite a bit, and I often take advise from the model about something she may be able to do which will improve my original idea.

It really becomes a collaboration between the two of us, and it's important to me that we follow up on any little bursts of creativity that occur during a session. We often end up tossing my ideas out the window and doing roll after roll of some minor variations we discovered while the model was resting between poses.

Sez G: You sometimes offer observer workshops during your shoots, in which people are invited to review your portfolio and then attend a shoot. How does this affect the dynamic of your work? Do the models feed off of this?

Craig Morey: The workshops are billed as "real photo shoots" and they are, except for the fact that having a dozen or so people watching us automatically creates an unusual environment.

I go through the same steps - I have a few sketches which I show to the model and also to the workshop attendees. I do the shoot in my normal way, but I stop quite often to discuss with the group what I'm doing, what I'm thinking and what I am trying to accomplish.

I choose models for the workshops based partially on their willingness to withstand the gaze and interest of a dozen "observers" for an afternoon. For some, this is fine, and for others it just wouldn't work. In most cases, even if the model is a bit nervous at the beginning, she and I both soon begin to interact as we would in a regular session.

Sez G: You've done a lot of intimate nude photography as well as extensive BDSM photography. What are the differences in shooting these two realms (the set-up, the models, etc)? Do you have a preference for one or the other? How did you get involved in shooting bondage photography?

Craig Morey: In every session, I'm guided not only by my own ideas and shoot plans, but also by the interests and personality of the model. I may get a sense ahead of time, from talking to the model or seeing other photos of her, of what she wants to do or what she expects from the session.

I do get a lot of inquiries from fetish / bondage models, who have established reputations. They often comment on specific images of mine they've seen, and I sometimes think they might be disappointed if I didn't want to tie them up, so I make that a part of the work we do together. Other times it will be apparent that a model is really just interested in some rather simple, un-explicit shots, and so I don't even bring out the ropes.

I don't really have a strong specific preference for fetish work, nor do I want to stop doing it. I work it in to my "repertoire" so to speak, when appropriate. I started doing a lot of stylized studio bondage around 1996, because I was interested in the use of rope and bodies. I'd done some shots for a magazine called Future Sex in 1990, using the rope theme and I'd always wanted to explore it further since then.

Bondage or fetish imagery comprises perhaps a third of my work right now. Surprisingly, I get the strongest (positive) response on these photos from women - they are by far the most commented-on images I've done, and the majority of the comments come from women who enjoy that type of work and / or wish to be bound and photographed.

Sez G: Is there a particular mood or attitude you try to convey?

Craig Morey: Most of the time, I'm going for a quiet, erotic self-awareness on the part of the subject. That's why you'll often see the model looking directly into the camera. I discuss this idea with the model - letting her know what I'm looking for and what kind of expressions I want and don't want. Most models are great about this, and relieved that they don't have to come up with some manufactured coy smile.

I want the pictures to indicate that this woman is aware that she's being observed, that she's being desired. I want the image to convey the message that although this woman is quite unafraid of letting us see her naked, she is in complete control of her body and her sexuality.

Sez G: Where do you find inspiration? Where do you see beauty?

Craig Morey: I look at a lot of images. I have lots of magazine clippings and notes I've written to myself. I usually start out when preparing for a photo session with some sketches and photos that I'd like to work from - but what usually happens is that each model will inspire me in her own way. The way the model poses, or rests between poses, will create a new idea for images in my mind and I often change plans in the middle of a shoot .

Inspiration and beauty are always difficult to pin down. I think what one might call inspiration in an artist is just another way of saying "hunger" - hunger for resolution of a desire, hunger for contact with the other gender or with other humans, hunger for symmetry, for sex, for solace. It's certainly not something one can look for, rather it's something one must remain open to.

Beauty is another matter, and yet also connect to this hunger. I find beauty in the women I photograph, of course, but also in so many other places. I think I've chosen to make this act of photographing women my way of experiencing beauty and perfection up close and personal. I'm not a good painter or musician, for instance, but this art / craft of making pictures is something I've learned how to do well, and so it represents for me all acts of seeking or making beautiful things. If I had several lifetimes to spend, I'd probably move on to music or drawing or writing, but there just isn't enough time - and besides I'm not nearly finished with all the beautiful women.

You can view more of Craig Morey's work at

Craig Morey - by Sez G.