Words Alexander Cao
A cursory glance at Mike Rinaldi’s Instagram (@michael_the_iii) takes us down an artsy-fartsy lane filled with both beauty and booty. A Dali of the digital era, his visual feed serves a glittering cocktail of fantasy and reality. Needless to say, we’re completely obsessed.
PANSY: With social media we often elicit a constructed persona, a character per se, or just our dogs sometimes. Who are we speaking with today, Michael the III or Mike Rinaldi?
Mike: You are speaking with Mike Rinaldi. I don't let Michael the III do interviews anymore, he talks too much.
PANSY: It’s lovely to meet you! Let’s just get the formalities out of the way. Where do you draw inspiration from for your pastel paradise of a gallery?
Mike: I'm very inspired by beefcake and cheesecake imagery (vintage ones, especially) as well as celebrities and iconography of all sorts. Using these ingredients, I try to create images that feel like digital pin-ups. They are meant to be immediate and striking, not at all subtle.
PANSY: What does a regular day in your life look like?
Mike: I work full-time and then afterwards I try to balance more work and relaxation: edit[ing] photos or videos between mini-marathons of Beyoncé, Barbra Streisand or Shirley Bassey.
PANSY: We also love being taken on a journey by your weird and wonderful IG captions. Where do you draw inspiration for these excerpts and when can we expect the full length major motion picture?
Mike: My captions are almost always inspired by real life. But they are so far from reality that even if I were writing about you, [you’d] have a hard time deciphering it. In many ways, I am inspired by writers like Dorothy Parker and Fran Lebowitz, for their strong sense of perspective and often overly opinionated voice. I would love to make a major motion picture. I’ve thought a lot about what that would be, so hopefully we can expect it soon. I would also love to direct a porno.
PANSY: Have you always been comfortable being naked in front of the camera? What role does nudity play in your work?
Mike: It was only in 2013 that I first started experimenting with self-made nude photography, in the context of an Instagram collective I created called @nakedthursdays (which sounds like exactly what it was). That started as a bit of a joke between my friends and I who started it. But when it ended, I realized that I could keep going with it. My first few posts for @nakedthursdays really shocked me. I’d wake up on Friday morning having a bit of a moment, wondering if I made a mistake. But then over time I got used to it and now it's completely natural. Being in a state of undress plays a big role in my work. I am very aware of it's power, and I admittedly use that. But it's also a commentary on social media celebrity and the constant desire for intimacy or access on digital platforms. My flirtation with this, I hope, reveals the clichés as well as contributes to them. …I don't want to parody as a way of shaming, but [instead] with the purpose of taking this common medium and running with it while also highlighting the ridiculous and narcissistic side of it all. The almost constant state of undress becomes a costume, what seems like my reality isn't real, and that's highlighted by the editing of the photos. I do not post candid images straight from a camera. If I did, I wouldn't be Michael the III.
PANSY: Placing the gaze on the male form is refreshing and nuanced for many reasons. Give us some of your thoughts on the current state of masculinity in your world?
Mike: I think masculinity right now is having its well-deserved shake up. In the last few years, it's been challenged so much on a mainstream level from aesthetics to gender roles and its privileges. My hope is that as this happens, it's not just those who have been using traditional masculinity who get applause for "pushing boundaries", but the actual LGBTQ+ people who have been doing it for years, not because times have changed but because that's who they are. [However] it’s not applause but acceptance that is needed.
PANSY: Moving forward, what’s next for Michael the III?
Mike: Michael will be doing more videos. Hopefully more collaborations. As I've said I'd love to direct a porno so I'm putting that out there. I think he should also do some performances too, he'd love that.