The image that prefaces this post is one of the first male figurative photographs I ever took. Accomplished at my school’s studio, it was a nervous attempt to reckon with my sexual awakening. This was the early ’80’s, when the male nude still elicited strange looks and whispers. But it felt appropriate. As a shy guy who usually avoided social gatherings, this was my voice, albeit a whisper.
My most significant influence was Duane Michals. He was a gay photographer who employed photographic narratives to carefully explain the basic nature that drives us. Nothing screamed or shouted. They were deliberate tableaux of the world he witnessed. He was a human being describing life in a refreshingly casual discourse. At times disarming the viewer with humorous recollections of these societal habits. It was this genuine visual communication that captured my attention.
Early work was full of violence and self-loathing. I felt alone in this new world of homosexuality. I didn’t seem to have the same distinguishing camouflage as all the stereotypical guys that were out there. Wanting to dress like a woman, a cowboy or in leather just didn’t appeal. I wanted to be my old boring normal self and still love. So this conflict became my main topic. Of course, having the only openly gay guy in your high school tell you that there was NO WAY you could be gay, that you just didn’t fit the profile, didn’t help! Where was my place in this future vista?
But that’s the path one takes when he or she comes out and fully recognizes their sexuality. It’s a tough course. And it’s a time when you lay bare your inner self to the world. Nude and unprotected. The bare self for all the world to see. It’s frightening! The nude then becomes a visual metaphor for all types of conversations stemming from this awakening. When you have a physical being devoid of all traces of protection and societal trappings, you have a figure pure and innocent of the corruptions of the world. The body then becomes symbolic.
The singular figure always resonates with solitude. In so far as they describe a sense of privacy and contemplation, there still exists implied discomfort. It’s those feelings that flow from the mind to the lens. Attempting best as possible to capture those true emotions that lie beneath the chameleon facade that’s on public display. In fact, most artists seek truth in their own manner and according to their goals. Mine is the twisted, convoluted self that still grapples with his place in the world.
It’s a society where I still see many disparities and hypocrisy. Why can’t we just be ourselves. Again, the nude reveals that elemental being. There’s implied honesty from a physical form lacking all ties to society. Perhaps that is the reason the male figure is so disturbing to most. Gone are all the protections that provide strength and power. It is the individual literally laid bare and defenseless!
Attraction and love for man began this interest in the male figure, but the need to communicate deep seated thoughts elevated this subject to a whole new symbolic level. I always hear subtle comments suggesting pornography. Many instantly associate the nude with a vulgarity that discounts the message. These people have little capacity for creative vision. These are not titular images unless one is horribly repressed and desperate. That should be obvious to anyone who has even remotely immersed themselves in the arts.
It’s not to say that the male figure cannot be appreciated for its innate beauty. Man has been doing that for thousands of years. There should be no shame in that. Indeed it’s our social systems which drive this negativity. Finding the words 40 years later to detail what was hidden deeply, I’m pleased at the progress from an egocentric to a more altruistic course. It’s aging and maturation at its best.