2004_12_merlin_large.jpgI met Merlin Bronques last year at The Coral Room, where I was busy imbibing free Cosmos at a party for BUST magazine and generally making a drunken, half-naked fool of myself. Merlin quickly saw the hotness potential of me and my then-girlfriend and ushered us into the bathroom, where he proceeded to take a few shots of us in various salacious poses, then got me to write a naughty piece for his recently issued publication The Testament. Merlin is a creature of the nightlife, partying hard and photographing all the hotties at his site Last Night's Party, while being the driving force behind NAM:LIVE and posting on his blog, when not walking the city streets hoping for a glimpse of his next top model. He finds them anywhere and everywhere, and believes, "With a complete stranger you can explore sides of yourself that you never could with family, friends and even your significant other."

Merlin combines the best of glamorous pinup photography with a lush, urban aesthetic, and his photos capture the vibrancy of New York life and its most lusty citizens. His passion for his craft is clear in the way he describes his work and his nonstop clicking; at a recent party of mine, he made sure to capture almost everyone there at their most gorgeous. If you see Merlin coming your way, make sure you smile and strike a pose. I plan to do so very soon.

How long have you been taking photos? Did you formally study it?
My dad was a studio photagrapher and he gave me my first camera. When he sees my pictures now, especially the pinups he says "I've done all of that stuff before . . ." My mother lovingly calls me the pornographer.

How did you get hooked on taking the pinup style photos you specialize in?
I met a girl who had come to New York to make it as a model and was rejected by every agency in town. Elle etait magnifique! So I asked her to do a pinup photoshoot the night I met her, 2 days before she was going back to Minnesota.

You rove the streets of New York looking for hot/interesting girls to photograph. Where are the best areas to find them?
I don't look for people to photograph. I never 'scout'. My next model is the girl waiting in line behind me at the post office, or the guy sitting next to me on the subway. Because it's so off the cuff though, I always think my latest model will be my last.

Will you go up to any girl you want to photograph? What exactly do you say to them? What have been the most interesting reactions (good and bad) you’ve gotten from soliciting people to photograph?
The less typical beauties are the hardest to approach because they think they're being punk'd. One time a girl yelled at me because she said she noticed I was looking at her ass. I told her that I was indeed looking at her ass, and that I wanted to photograph it. We did the photoshoot 2 days later at her apartment. The therapy session that followed (she started telling me all her relationship problems) lasted longer than the shoot.

Your site Lastnightsparty.com documents just that, including everything from my spanking book party to chi chi events capturing Rudy Giuliani and all sorts of party mayhem in between. Where do you find out about these parties and how do you decide whose photos you want to take?
The site has taken a life of it's own, so people just get in touch with me now. But even at the beginning, I just let karma dictate where I was going to be. It's New York. If you walk outside, you'll hear about a party.

Your blog states that “"The NAM:LIVE! art project serves to inspire people to express themselves outside of society's little box." What does that mean to you and how do you go about this?
Everyone has that thing that they'd do if they weren't going to be judged for it. I encourage people to do these things and commit it to film or audio as proof that it went down. Because of my natural inclinations, those things tend to be sexual.

What’s your favorite thing about taking the kinds of photos you do? You seem to truly participate in the process, it’s a give-and-take, not just you telling the models what to do, but listening and interacting and getting feedback too.
No. I'm actually a tyrant once the process begins. Usually my models are pretty tired after a shoot. I do all my listening before the process so I know where that person is coming from, but a good shoot is one where there's very little talking once we start. I give orders, but the models always seem to like that.

What for you makes a perfect photograph? Can that be choreographed, or does it by necessity have to be spontaneous?
Ironically, I don't really care about photographs and photography that much. I care more about the stories. The photographs are just proof that these moments actually happened in order to maybe inspire other people to go out and do the same. I'm looking for the perfect moment.

On your blog The Bronxxx Diaries, you tell the story of how you met each of your models – is it important to you to have a sense of who the people behind the bodies are, or is the visual all important?
It's like music. If it ain't got a good beat, who cares? So beauty is all important, but it sure is nice to have something of substance if you decide to dig a little deeper.

Is there a general “look” you’re going for with the models and your photos, or is it all individual?
No. If it was up to me the range of people I use would be ridiculous. It turns out that the people who are most likely to say yes to being photographed naked for a complete stranger are extremely beautiful, young and have nice bodies. As more people find out about what I do, I suspect I'll be getting more different types of people. I want to do a series with people with disabilities and an over 60 series. I've asked women over 60 to do pinups with me but they just laugh.

If you were to open your own studio, would that change how you work? Do you prefer to be roving?
It would make me seem more legit. It would cut alot of my creative time in half and I'd never have problems with backgrounds. Yes, it would be boring.

Have you taken your camera to other cities, and if so how do they compare?
People feel like expressing themselves everywhere I've been. Nakedness and a desire to play with your sexual image is universal it seems. Wherever people engage in the thrill of skinny dipping, there's a place for me.

Every time I hear from you, you’re working on something new. What’s next?
My work hasn't changed really. I'm still taking pictures of complete
strangers. Just alot more strangers. These days I'm taking about 300 photographs a day, so I don't have time to think. I use that time to eat and sleep. I do want to start a magazine though.

Who would you love to photograph if you could?

Do you have any tips for photographers who want to do what you do? What’s the best way to approach a potential model? Tell me your secrets!
I get letters every week where people ask me for a formula, but there is none. There's really no secret. All I say is 'hi' and ask if I can photograph the person. I'm honest and I have a vision. You can't really shortcut those two things.

Find out about all of Merlin's projects, including The Testament: Sex, Scriptures and Rock & Roll and Urban Pinups, and view his gallery of photos on his website, then read about his latest adventures on his blog, The Bronxxx Diaries. Merlin can be reached at merlin@namlive.com

Self-portrait by Merlin Bronques

-- Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel