At first glance, you’d think it was a tiny sculpture. An amber-colored infant sits with his back facing the viewer as a viscous liquid drips from his body and pools up around him. He looks as if he’s melting.
But as you flip through the dozens of photographs captured by Blake Little, you quickly realize the figure is actually a living, breathing baby. His name is Riot, and he’s just shy of two-years-old. He and countless others have been covered in honey as part of Little’s latest series, Preservation, which also recently had an exhibition at the Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles.
“The honey has a way of diffusing people’s features,” Little told The Daily Beast of the project, adding it also gave the effect of the body being preserved in amber. “For that reason, I wanted to use different body types, skin types, races, and ages that really exaggerated the effect.”
Photographing some 90 models over a three-year period, Little captured an array of people at different stages of life, from the two-year-old child to an 85-year-old woman.
“We only shot [Riot] for half an hour,” Little said, noting his dad was sitting right next to him on the platform while his mother supervised. A pediatrician gave the green light to Little, and Riot actually loved the shoot. “He’s laughing. He’s smiling. He’s throwing his hands in the air with the honey,” said Little. “I have a whole series of just him.”
However, the cherubic, honey-covered tot hardly steals the show. There are dancers gracefully captured mid-routine, a couple embracing as a thick layer of honey renders them unrecognizable, and a spotted pup frozen in time as he shakes the sticky substances from his body.
Little has been capturing portraits since he moved from his native Seattle to Los Angeles in the 1980s. It was there he became entrenched in the art scene and began photographing now-famous artists like Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, and David Hockney, which helped launch his career shooting celebrities.
He’s photographed the gamut of A-list stars—Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, 50 Cent, Iggy Pop and Jane Fonda—for a variety of publications, from People to ESPN The Magazine.
But when working on personal projects, Little likes to move away from the celebrity and focus on subjects closer to home.
His first museum exhibition in 2014 featured his Gay Rodeo series. It documented his time in an amateur rodeo group of gay men based in Los Angeles and debuted at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The series features a combination of portraits and candid moments from the various bull riding competitions Little competed in.
In one image, two men share a victory kiss in Oklahoma City. Another image from Phoenix catches a rider mid-air as the bull bucks him. The entire group appears together in San Diego.
Little only lasted a few years competing before he won the championship in 1990 and decided to call it quits two years later.
“I saw one of my friends get hurt really bad, so I stopped,” Little said. “Partly because of my career and partly because I didn’t want to break my leg or smash my face.”
The latter two series show “an alternative to the stereotype” of the gay community—a more “masculine side of gay men,” according to Little.
“When I was doing this ten years ago, I was showing something that a lot people were not aware of,” he added.
The men he photographed from cities and towns across the nation were not the type of gay men depicted a decade ago in mainstream media. They are burley and bearded, dressed in their team sport uniform, or standing along on the farm.
“Now things have changed so incredibly fast and it’s a completely different world,” said Little
The Preservation project began when Little was photographing a man he described as a “bear”—gay lingo for a larger, hairier man—pretending to eat the honey with his bare hands.
“I thought it was kind of cliché and only shot for about ten minutes,” Little said. “But there was something about the honey on his hands and the way the body looked through the honey, as if it were preserved in amber like an insect.”
Inspired, he had a friend stop by his home studio a few weeks later and began covering him in honey from head to toe. Soon, he was sourcing models on Craigslist and other scouting sites for the Los Angeles area.
Little made sure not to mention anything about the honey before the shoots, as he worried people would get the wrong idea about his intentions. He only advertised an art project that involved nudity.
When each model arrived, he would explain the process and show them previous photos he had taken.
“I thought maybe ten percent are going to be willing to do this,” Little said, “but almost everybody except for maybe two people wanted to participate. I think when they saw the photos and were like, ‘Oh, this is amazing, I want to do this.’”
For the entire series, Little used approximately 2,700 pounds of honey.
You would think honey would be extremely heavy and frustratingly difficult to get out of your hair and off your body. But Little quickly brushed aside all fears: “You just need to use hot water because it’s like sugar. People use it in shampoo and skin treatments, so it is actually good for the body.”
The blowback doesn’t actually come from the honey-coated participants, but bee enthusiasts. A whole slew of people have been denouncing Little for his waste of honey and its impact on the bee community.
He insists that his methods are safe and that many beekeepers are fans of his work. “People are saying that I am hurting bees by using honey, but they actually function better when you harvest from their hives,” he said.
Little equates people’s comments to shaming someone for drinking milk. “By using their product you’re not hurting them, and if you are supporting the beekeepers they are going to keep the bee population going because they have a financial incentive to do so,” he said.
Now that the Preservation series has finished, Little is leaving the buzzy haters behind.
For his next endeavor, Little is returning to his passion for documenting the LGBT community. He will be working with the Los Angeles LGBT Center in a dual art project and media campaign will focuses on homeless youth.
“The pictures will be used for an awareness campaign dealing with the fact that 30 to 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT,” he said of the project, which is still in development.
“I’m really excited,” said Blake. It’s the next opportunity to show yet another side of the LGBT community that is unknown to mainstream America.
Preservation is available for purchase here.