Exclusive: Carlos Santolalla, A Stoned Kind of Role Model

Don’t call him a gay artist. Carlos Santolalla’s work is something that everyone can relate to, especially if you’re hittin’ the grass. Is he a stoner? Not exactly, but did he shoot a 4/20 zine filled with film images of hot boys getting high? Yep. He’s that model/photographer known for rolling through to galas with a disposable camera, capturing people that “looked so messy, but so beautiful at the same time.” Carlos is also one half of Jarlos420, the Instagram where he and his partner in crime John Tuite post photos that encapsulate their own love, while surrounded by parties and celebrities in a punkish downtown glamour kind of way. Catching up with Milk Made’s Karenna Insanally, Carlos filled us in on some behind the scenes facts about High, while we learned about his greater cause – making people understand that gay is just normal.

For 4/20 last year, you made a video. What prompted you to change directions this time around?

My boyfriend and I always try to work creatively, it’s just fun. Since the video, I’ve had an art show with [DKNY](✓&search=dkny) and one at [Art Basel](✓&search=art+basel), and wanted to continue to do something for 4/20. I’m from California and John’s from Florida, so we’re both from super beach centric places. I don’t want to come off as a stoner but because of that it comes naturally –it’s a normal way of being. I’m not really the type of person who brings who I am to places, but I told someone that I wanted to create a 4/20 zine of hot guys looking stoned. They thought it was this amazing California centric thing, and that bringing it to New York would be really exciting. So from there I grabbed my film camera and shot as many cute boys as I could and it came out really well. This is my first zine, which I’m really happy about, and hopefully a book is next.

How’d the shoot work? Did you bring the weed and get everyone stoned?

Yes actually, I bought so much weed and rolled so many joints. I had a cigarette box filled with pre-rolled joints and handed them out to the boys. I was supposed to get them so high that their eyes turn incredibly red. So I had to give everyone their own joint, and I told myself I wasn’t going to smoke at all.

So you didn’t get stoned?

I did. Everytime. But I didn’t want to at all!

Given that you were all stoned during the shoot, there must have been some hilarious moments.

There are a lot of hilarious pictures that I haven’t sent out. There’s a shot where these two kids are licking each others eyeballs. The photos I got were just incredible, and the boys I got were so down to be photographed and create some really cool images. There were lots of hands on faces, and stretching eyeballs, all while focusing on looking stoned. They were all really into playing around with imagery because they’re art kids.

You’re obviously pro marijuana. What do you see in the future for New York’s legalization policy?

Actually, a dispensary is about to open by my house – there’s a sign, it’s crazy. Between the photos and the zine, I’ve been incorporating a lot of facts about Colorado’s legalization and it’s benefit to the economy. It only makes sense to legalize it. I also included a lot about the absurdity of chastising people who smoke weed casually and get sent to jail. It’s completely unfair and ridiculous. I think it’s important to make a statement even though I’m showing cute boys getting stoned. It’s also crucial to let people know what’s going on legally with marijuana. I could’ve easily shot shirtless guys looking sexy and high, while holding a joint, but it was never about that. It’s about showcasing that stoners aren’t bad people. They can be guys having fun.

You and John are the first gay couple to get signed as models, but you also want to transcend the model category and be considered artists. How’s that going?

Modeling gives us a platform to launch our careers, that’s how I was able to make the zine. Nowadays I can complete creative projects and gain more recognition for them. It helps a lot. I already had a few background art projects that I had done in the past and now they’re all surfacing.

Overall, modeling’s been great, and hopefully we can get some big jobs. It would be amazing to do a High Times cover. I’d like to do that. I want to be the gay face of normalcy. I want be in something like a Supreme ad, not something with a rainbow flag behind me. I want people to see John and me and think, ‘wow that’s that gay couple, but they also represent this brand.’ Not, ‘this brand is gay and here’s this gay couple.’ With modeling, I’m trying to use it to change people’s perspective.

This might be my own bias, but I think straight people have this weird sense, or are somewhat threatened by gays. For instance, in the modeling world, casting directors won’t cast gay people because they don’t find them aspirational.

There’s an abundance of gay models out there who are forced to hide their sexuality.

It’s sad. Agencies have literally asked John and me not to be gay – it’s really common practice. Things are really fucked up. Being gay doesn’t demean your manhood and it shouldn’t. Nearly everyone in the fashion industry is gay – it’s just internalized homophobia and a societal defect. They want to cast someone on an ad that you’ll aspire to be, and they think if that person is gay, then people won’t want to aspire to be them. As models, we’re fighting for a way bigger cause.

The photos I take are somewhat normal, and people may not understand that it has a purpose. I don’t want to shoot pictures of gay guys fisting each other in black and white so people can say, “wow I love it” or gay guys with glitter everywhere. I want people to see that being gay is normal. We’re just normal guys.

Do you ever feel like your image as a gay couple cripples your ability to work with more mainstream media?

I do feel that way in certain regards. I am gay, but I’m not a gay artist and I really want to push that. For example, there are a lot of people who take photos of gay guys kissing, like Sandy Kim who took a photo of two guys making out and it’s amazing, but it’s not gay art. She’s my favorite. I love her so much, and she’s someone who helped me put all of this together. I really just want to be able to take pictures of gay boys, or even of a straight guy and have it not be labeled as gay art. You know what I mean?

You and John are known for having these personalities that people are just drawn to. How does that feel, knowing that people just want to be close to you?

I think it’s cool. I want to be a role model. I’ve had a 16-year-old kid come up to me and say, “I looked up gay models and couldn’t find anyone but you.” That’s something I’ll remember forever.

Photography by Carlos Santolalla

Purchase his zine, High here.

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