Sugar Daddy uncovers the history of the sugar daddy, particularly in gay male and queer spaces, using the nineteenth-century story of Adolph Spreckels and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, and their connection to the works and life of the author Danielle Steele. Alma was born in San Francisco in 1881; at just over six feet tall she was working as a model for the sculptor Robert Aitken when the sugar baron Adolph Spreckels fell in love with her. Since he was 24 years older than her and his money came from sugar, she called him her “sugar daddy.” Alma was patroness of the Legion of Honor and a notorious drinker and celebrated hostess. After their second child was born, she was able to convince Adolph to build her dream house in 1913 on her favorite spot on the top of the ridge in Pacific Heights. Decades later, Danielle Steele bought this French Baroque Chateau-style mansion, using funds from her prolific writing career. In this photograph, I take on the role of Adolph, with a younger man as Alma, based on one of my favorite images of her. In the background is a portrait of Beefcake, a New Orleans drag queen, from my most recent body of work “Best Lives.” The accompanying video piece documents a letter I sent to Danielle Steele outlining my research on Alma, as I type on a typewriter of the same vintage as that used by the author herself, as I attempted to convince her to collaborate on a restaging of this photograph with her in her home.
Sean Fader is currently the Professor of Practice in Photography at Tulane University. Sean Fader received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, his MA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and his BFA from the New School in New York City. Fader is represented by Denny Dimin Gallery in New York City. Fader’s work can currently be seen in Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at the Albright -Knox Museum in Buffalo NY and Peep Show at Anton Kern Gallery in New York. His most recent solo show THIRST/TRAP was created with the support of a Skau Music and Arts Grand from Tulane University. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally in Dubai, Canada, Mexico and England. His exhibition history includes Contemporary Performance at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in Tampa (2019), On the Map at Denny Dimin Gallery Hong Kong (2019), 365 Profile Pics at the SPRING/BREAK Art show with Denny Dimin Gallery in NYC (2017), Picture Yourself: Selfies, Cellphones, and the Digital Age at the College of Wooster Art Museum (2016), Drama Queer: seducing social change at the Queer Arts Festival in Vancouver (2016), and White Boys, curated by Hank Willis Thomas and Natasha L. Logan at Haverford College. Fader was named a NYFA Fellow in 2013 and A Blade of Grass Fellow for 2012-2013, and he received Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward Award for Emerging Photographers in 2012. Fader has been awarded prestigious residencies at Art Omi, Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts, Yaddo, Stove Works, and The Wassaic Project. He has received press coverage in MOMUS, Hyperallergic, British Journal of Photography, Art F City, Humble Arts Foundation, the Huffington Post, WWD, and Slate.