Chad States is a sexy lad and photographer who recently released his first monograph entitled Cruising that features beautiful images of parks and locales where men hunt and indulge in primal connections. An exploration of public spaces where these interactions take place, Cruising captures and preserves an aspect of gay men’s culture that many men can relate to and fantasize about in intimate and lush images. I had a chance to talk to Chad about his book and thoughts on cruising.
1. Chad, I always ask my interview subjects about their hanky colors. What are yours?
That’s easy—hunter green, right pocket.
2. What inspired you to create a book about cruising?
I became interested in working on a photographic project about cruising when the park near my house in Delaware became a cruise site over the course of one summer. I started to wonder how these cruise sites originate since cruising is all about anonymity and disconnect. So I started to search these sites out in my local area and in doing so was reminded of how much I loved to cruise when I was a teenager.
3. Do you enjoy cruising?
I love cruising! It is one of the most erotic things to me. Not just cruising in woods but cruising in general. I am very visual and I love to watch and the act of cruising is all done through the eyes, which of course ties back to photography. I love that you can see someone you don’t know and hold their gaze and you don’t even have to talk and there can be an incredible sexual charge. I love that immediate exchange of sexual energy. The exchange doesn’t even have to end up with sex either, but the potential that it could makes it exciting for me. I cruised all the time as a teenager and into my early twenties and I have had some amazing experiences. So for me there is a certain nostalgia in the work, for my own experiences but also the thought that an activity that was once so integral to gay culture is waning in part due to Grindr and Manhunt.
4. So how does the waning of cruising in a changing queer landscape make you feel?
I think it is sad. I am on Grindr and Scruff and all but I don’t like this form of interaction, it isn’t adventurous enough for me and I want my sexuality to feel adventurous. Plus these digital ways of cruising strips away chemistry which is so important in a sexual interaction. There are plenty of guys that I have hooked up with that I met at a bar/bathhouse/cruise park that I would have never given the slightest attention in a digital interaction but in person I feel a sexual chemistry towards.
Beyond all this, I am a big advocate of sexual behavior that is traditionally seen as deviant. For me there was so much shame surrounding sex before I came out. After I came out I saw sex as full of possibility that was fun and healthy. And being gay gave me that perspective. And there have been gay guys out there that have responded negatively to this work because they think that people who cruise are forced to do so and that I have no right to photograph them. And there is truth to that, but I would argue that there are even more people who go to cruising parks because they like it and enjoy them—not because this is their only outlet.
There’s also a feeling of nostalgia that comes from the loss of culture as gay people become more and more accepted into the mainstream. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to a time where it was difficult to be out and open about ones sexuality and I am all for advancing queer rights further, but when you are marginalized there is a stronger need for community and a stronger need to carve out specifically gay spaces like bars, cruising parks, bathhouse and such. Now, it seems these spaces are needed less and less, which again is wonderful in many respects, but at the same time it is sad that aspects of gay culture are being lost in the process.
5. Tell me about the process of capturing the images for your book.
I began this project 4 years ago. At first I was simply interested in the landscape in which these activities took place and then as I continued I started to interact more and more until I was able to start making the photographs of sexual encounters. It took me a long time to figure out how to make the more sexually explicit photographs. What I discovered was that if I engaged in the activities and became an insider (which I was happy to do) then I could become accepted and make the photographs. So many of the people within the images are fully aware of my camera—it is not something that I’m hiding, but the camera becomes part of the sexual play and the people in the photographs become performers.
6. Any advice for the male cruiser?
Keep hope alive!
You can get your own copy of Cruising through powerHouse books.