Thomas Knights is Red Hot – celebrating the sexiness of the ginger
Thomas Knights is the photographer behind the Red Hot calendars – showcasing the heat that red-head guys can generate.
We caught up with him to talk about life in the ginger lane.
When you started the Red Hot project in 2013, were you surprised at how positive the reaction was?
I did some research when I started Red Hot and realised that there had never been anything in the history of the world that showcased ginger men as sexy and desirable – or simply showcased them.
It was a brand new idea, so I knew it was going to have an impact. But it did surprise me how positive the reaction was, especially in the gay scene. I think it was because it’s fundamentally about a group of people who have been marginalised for their difference – and who were now celebrating that difference and having a moment in the spotlight. It’s an experience that correlates with the gay experience.
Was there some sense of vindication for you, as a red-head, that finally the world was acknowledging how hot red-head guys are?
Yes, 100 percent. One of my friends said to me – ‘You only made Red Hot so you can have more sex!’ It was meant to be a scandalous discovery but it was totally true. It was all about self-empowerment – for all gingers.
But, as an artist, it was incredibly exciting to have created something that became a social movement and really changed how people saw ginger guys – I saw the power of an idea.
Regardless of hair colour, gym-fit white guys aren’t a particularly marginalised part of our community. How does celebrating red-heads help to illustrate the importance of representation and diversity?
Redheads are the only white ‘other’ so labelling the discrimination they face is a really grey area. That’s why ‘gingerism’ – for want of a better word – has been allowed to continue for so long. It’s one of the last forms of acceptable discrimination out there.
Yes, they are all mostly white, but the simple fact is that ginger kids have a really tough time growing up in the UK and around the world. They are picked on relentlessly at school – ‘kick a ginger day’ is a real thing in some places, driving some children to take their own lives.
Red Hot focuses on sexy ginger guys, but our message is about the importance of owning your difference and being proud of who you are.
2019 was your sixth Red Hot calendar. Has the style of the calendars been evolving over the years?
It’s become way more sexual and naked! This has been largely dictated by our audience, and sales of certain things that have instructed us over the years. It was way more innocent when we began. But now, we try to give the people what they want.
Proceeds of the 2019 calendar supported the Athlete Ally charity. Why did you select Athlete Ally?
Sport remains one of the greatest socialisation mechanisms in the world — it communicates values without relying on any one language, and its most successful participants are known and respected globally. However, an entire community of people remain systematically excluded from sport. Athlete Ally believes that everyone should have equal access, opportunity, and experience in sports — regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Their mission is to end the rampant homophobia and transphobia in sport, and to activate the athletic community to exercise their leadership to champion LGBTQ equality.
As adults, we tend to give little thought to the idea of having a role model, as we regard this to be a quality that children seek from the adults in their lives. However, if you stop and consider who most influences you now, and why, you’ll no doubt agree that the people you admire now are giving you your most important life lessons. We believe a huge amount of good for the community will come from LGBTQ sports role models, so we entirely support the work they do.
You generally cast your models through Instagram – was that how you cast the all-American red-heads for the 2019 calendar?
Instagram is so important for us to discover new talent and to communicate directly with the models. We found all of the American Boys on there – holding an online casting and asking people to submit their pictures. We had hundreds, if not thousands of submissions, so the job of going through them is lengthy but rewarding.
We know exactly what we’re looking for. For this calendar, our art director Elliott wanted that wholesome All- American jock look, so we could narrow it down that way. Half the guys had very small profiles when we found them – Graysen had 300 followers, and now he is pushing 20,000! The calendar has really changed some of the guys’ lives.
What were the logistics of the shoot?
It was shot over two days in and around Venice Beach. We had it totally planned out, but then had to change everything at the last minute due to the weather. There is this phenomenon in LA called May Grey, where the day starts totally cloudy and misty and clears by 2 PM. All the days were scheduled to start from the early morning, so we had to cram the days into the second half of the day. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful, but we got the shots.
Weren’t the models worried about sun-burn?
Luckily we wanted them to look a bit shimmery, so we used a special sun oil that gave the right look for the pictures. Most of them were only in the sun for half an hour – that is literally all the time we had to shoot each model!