“The honey has a way of softening people’s features … It democratizes people.”
But how did he persuade people to cover themselves in the sticky substance?
“When I cast for it, I didn’t tell people what I was doing, I just said it was an art project,” Little said. “And then when they got to the casting, I showed them the pictures I had already shot. I figured if I told them I was going to cover them in honey, without showing them exactly what I meant, they would think of something erotic!”
The idea came to him by chance while shooting a man Blake describes as “bearish looking,” who he photographed eating honey with his hands.
“There was something remarkable about the honey on his hands and on his body so at the end of the shoot, I decided to pour it on his head and it created this incredible effect, like he was preserved in amber.”
Blake then turned this idea into a full project and cast everyday people for the shoot. Some he even found on Craigslist.
“I wanted to include a wide range of people – different ages, races and body types because there was something human about what I was doing, I wanted people that represent everyone.”
The 60 final pictures, which are included in the book, are a world away from the celebrity portraiture Little is known for.
“Usually when I’m photographing people,” he said, “for me the eyes and their connection to the camera is essential to the portrait and often times, makes the picture. But with the honey, the people’s eyes are closed so the experience of having it poured on them creates a physical reaction and a physical emotion, which replaces the emotion of the eyes.”
The subjects are almost unrecognizable under the gloopy layers, which makes the images so fascinating.
“The honey has a way of softening people’s features and I discovered this while doing it. It democratizes people – meaning people look similar.”
One of the standout subjects is 18-month-old baby, Riot, whose parents brought him along to the casting.
“I was shooting on a platform with the baby’s father lying on the platform with him, also covered in honey. That’s how we did it.” The resulting image is the book’s back cover.
Despite the costs associated with re-using thousands of pounds of honey (Blake was keen to recycle the honey on each shoot), the photographer wanted to use a natural, sustainable resource.
“I thought about using an alternative material but there’s a quality to honey and a reference to nature.”
Beth Wachtel, Getty Images Senior Creative Content Editor who works closely with Little, admires his work.
“With his Preservation project, Blake brings his own unique creative vision to the subject of the human (and canine) form,” she said, “and allows us to push the boundaries of what is expected from commercial stock imagery.”
Blake’s strange yet wonderful images have been making headlines around the world, but this wasn’t intentional.
“I never really set out with a message,” he said. “I’m interested in creating new images that are compelling and unique and interesting. I don’t start out with a statement, my work happens much more organically than that.”
“Preservation” is available to order now.
See more of Blake Little’s work, honey-optional: with and without