PHOTOGRAPHER Tony Stamolis just made a book about his favorite things. His favorite things happen to be naked ladies and tacos, and his new photo book T&T&A (you figure it out) places images of Suicide Girl-esque nude models alongside gloppy, cheesy, heaping plates of Mexican food. Whether this is offensive to naked ladies, offensive to tacos, or only offensive to people who lack a sense of humor—you'll have to be the judge of that. We spoke to Stamolis the morning after he kicked off a nation-wide strip club tour to promote the book.
MERCURY: How was your first book launch party?
TONY STAMOLIS: It was fun. I'm trying to do all of these [book release parties] at crappy, seedy topless bars, and mission accomplished on the first one. It was kind of funny seeing a lot of those people in a bar like that—you know, magazine people and literary types. It was a really trashy place.
Why are you going for maximum trashiness?
I like dive-y bars in general, and dive-y topless bars just kind of take it up a notch and, you know, are suitable for the book. It's not happening everywhere, I'm actually having a couple in official bookstores, but this is a little more [appropriate] for an event for a book like this, you know?
What inspired the combination of these elements, tacos and naked ladies?
It was a term that I've used for a while, just joking with friends about tacos and titties, like, your favorite things and whatever, and coined the term "T and T and A." I just sort of rode that out and—pardon the phrase—pulled the book out of my ass.
Talking to my friends about your book, about half of them think it sounds funny, and half of them think it's offensive and degrading.
Yeah, I find that with my work in general. It's like people love it or hate it; there's no beige or gray, it definitely is one or the other, it seems. I had something posted on the Huffington Post, and the comments were so vicious, and then the whole thing got pulled, which I thought was pretty funny because they have tons of nude stuff on their site, but you put naked women next to food or tacos and suddenly it was offensive. I honestly could care less. If I sat around and listened to people bitch and moan, I wouldn't get anything done.
I think the concern is that placing pictures of women next to food really reduces them to objects or consumer goods.
I can totally see that, but what I find funny is almost all the pre-orders that I've had have been women who've bought it. The most positive reactions are from women, so I think they have a little more lighthearted take on it. It's just an absurd idea and project. I find it so funny when people get so bent out of shape about stuff.
How did you decide which models to pair with which tacos?
My designer did most of that—I sort of left that to her, but there were obvious things, colors and whatever. She's amazing. It's little things like black beans juxtaposed with black underwear around the girl's ankles, or radishes that sort of look like nipples. It's so ridiculously simple but you can take it such a distance, you know, design wise.
Did you set out to make literal "food porn"?
The whole food community really latched onto it before anyone, which I thought was amazing. The focus on the women's side came later, which I thought was so funny. It's just a basic primal thing. Coming from California, taco carts and trucks, it's almost a culture. Other than a funny, coined term, it was just my favorite fare, Mexican food. Kind of a basic Fresno thing, I guess.
What's the ideal reaction someone would have to your book? Humor? Hunger?
One of my favorites was some anonymous thing about some guy said [how he] he didn't know whether to go to the bathroom and masturbate, or run to the nearest taqueria. And I thought that was kind of ridiculous.
It's not my goal to try... to shock people and get attention. I find it actually hilarious, and I hope that other people do. I think there should a little bit of a wink and a nod, especially when it comes to smut. I always dub it "smart smut." There has to be a little sense of humor or something behind it to make it interesting. Anything I shoot should have a little giggle behind it.