When Bruce Weber set out to photograph Roberto Bolle, he knew he wanted the American Ballet Theater’s shy principal dancer to pose nude. “We talked about it halfway through,” Weber says of his collaboration with the 34-year-old Italian dancer. “ I said, ‘Your body is like your art, I think we have to show it.’ He said, ‘I’ve never done nudes before, what would my parents say?’ ” But eventually, Bolle obliged, and allowed Weber to photograph him in intimate positions—rolling around in bed; or propped on the bathroom counter, wearing only a towel. And for each of these relatively modest poses, there are majestic counterparts: Bolle balancing nude, like a statue, on a cement wall, frolicking at the beach or charging up a hill.
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“When we did [the nudes], we were out in these gravel pits in Florida,” Weber says. “We went there and he was doing the pictures, and this big truck of construction workers came by, and they said, ‘You’re not allowed to be here, it’s dangerous.’ And I had this nude man running up the mountain. I said to Roberto, ‘You have to put something around yourself!’ And Roberto said: “No, I feel great.”
The nudes are among Weber’s favorite photographs in Roberto Bolle: An Athlete in Tights.
The photographs, Weber says, illustrate a time when “Roberto’s emotional and physicality came together. And his acceptance of his body as his art became something he could stand up and be counted for.”
In addition to his work with Bolle, the 64-year-old photographer has produced another book this season: All-American IX: A Near-Perfect World, a collection of drawings, writings, and photographs (only a few by Weber) which celebrate the United States. It includes a spread on the legends of the Everglades; images of the Esalen Institute, and a photo essay and interview with Reverend Joseph Lowery, who delivered the benediction at President Obama’s Inauguration.
“I just thought it was nice to be able to give a voice from the past and the present who don’t necessarily have room in today’s publications,” Weber says. “So many magazines can’t do a full-length story on a subject matter.”
Among the most arresting images in All-American IX are never-before-published photographs Weber took of Michael Jackson—as part of the Jackson 5 in in 1975; and then as a veteran performer in 2007. “I felt with Michael that I was given a gift to experience him move,” Weber notes. “He had a naturalness in his body that gave him a feeling that when he moved, it seemed so easy—it was so electric and wild.” Weber remembers his last phone call with Jackson in the book: “He called me up late at night and asked if he looked “perfect” in his pictures. I asked him if he would do me a favor. He laughed, ‘Of course.’ ‘Well,’ I said. ‘I’ll give you some of these photographs if you promise me one thing—that you’ll really believe you’re beautiful.’ He was silent for a minute and then whispered, ‘OK!’”
Isabel Wilkinson is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast.