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Photo Zines: Casual Encounters

Causal Encounters Volumes 1-5
We've just received the newest volume of Casual Encounters by Michael Max McLeod, this one titled Ron. The fifth installment of McLeod's on-going self-published zine series, they are strange little books, each containing photographs taken during the photographer's meetings with men he finds on online dating sites. As McLeod describes it, his work centers around the relationship between sexuality and technology. His use of the internet and photography is not far from Chad States' Trade, but the result is something else all together. Titled after their subject, each book tells a story in five images, stories that are at times uncomfortable in their voyeuristic intimacy, but notably brief. Some of McLeod's images take us into his subject's homes where we catch glimpses of their surroundings, and all pose of his camera, sometimes nude, but none of the images are sexually graphic. Each book is an arresting combination of emotional rawness and distance.

from Casual Encounters 001 and Casual Encounters 002, respectively
Book 001 is titled Cameron, and opens with an image of the photographers shadow stretching across the front door of his subject's house. Inside, we get a few shots of the house's cinderblock interior, and a few portraits of Cameron himself, nude, but looking more thoughtful than seductive. Josh, volume 002, is an older man, and his poses are both more sexual and aggressive, though his face is never visible -- he stands naked facing the camera, hands covering his face. Volume 003, SPNDXBOI, is the strangest of the group, comprised of a series of nearly identical photographs of a man in variously colored zentia suits -- spandex garments designed to conceal the entire body. He sits on the same colorless carpet, in the same pose, the same electrical cord strewn on the carpet behind him. Volume 004, Tom, stands out as somehow feeling more tender. It opens with a grid of images of cell phone base station antenna, and Tom sits for his portrait with a slight smile on his face. The latest book, Ron, is perhaps the most lonely feeling, opening with the exterior of a cheap motel and moving to photographs of a bed, one of which has a man laying on it.

from Casual Encounters 003 and Casual Encounters 004, respectively
McLeod's work was included in the anthology Self-Publish Be Naughty, and this series would be at home in an issue of Little Brown Mushroom's Lonely Boy Mag., but self-published in these small books, it is an excellent example of form strengthening the impact of photographic work. The short zine format is important; each is a small collection of images and entirely self-contained, and the images are so well sequenced and revealing that you might not notice they hold only five photographs if you weren't counting. The highly structured format works well for McLeod and he manages to articulate volumes in limited space. They read like short poems, at once revealing yet cursory in scope, exposing enough to be unsettling, but too brief to transcend detachment.

cover of and image from Ron
The books' printing isn't of the highest quality -- they are produced in McLeod's home on a laser printer -- but they are finely designed and constructed, each consistent in the cover layout and title page, an embossed-stamp dated and initialed in the interior by McLeod. In their plastic sleeves, they feel a bit like comic books, open-ended and collectable. While a single issue has its individual importance, viewing them as a collection becomes an altogether more intimate and complex experience. And at $5 a pop, collecting them all isn't out of the question. -- Sarah Bradley

Find all the Causal Encounters books here