FOUR PHOTOGRAPHERS ON THE MEANING OF MASCULINITY

As much as the notion of the female gaze has flooded photography and pop-culture in recent time, there seems to be an equally strong force emerging set to shape and shift people’s understanding of masculinity – with the definition of how  “a man” has to look and behave like being increasingly teared apart by gender-questioning designers, rule-breaking artists, and boundary-pushing photographers. With an image often considered one of the most immediate ways to evoke certain emotions and feelings, the idea of using a camera as a transmitter becomes a whole new relevance once layered with the current cultural relevance of tackling these topics.

Dedicating a whole exhibition to this “New Masculinity”, Berlin-based photo platform Curated by GIRLS has teamed up with photographers Joseph Barrett, Liam Warton, Annika Weertz, and Phoebe Jane Barrett to raise questions around gender, sex, and stereotypes through visual display. Prior to the exhibiton’s start this weekend, INDIE caught up with each creative getting to know not only their view through the camera, but also personal outlook on the topics they want to depict – and whether any definitions are required in the first place.

Joseph Barrett

What comes to your mind when thinking about the notion of masculinity?
The notion of masculinity would often be related to a set of traits traditionally found within the male sex. For example, stereotypically you would relate a handsome and robust man to being masculine.

Should we even try to define what masculinity is in the first place?
Not at all, I believe individuals, whether male or female, should be able to express themselves and be perceived however they wish. The prospect of gender and what it means to an individual should be discovered by them and not dictated by the definition of a word.

How do you want to bring your perception of masculinity across in your images?
In my “male gaze” series I found it important to document a variety of individuals who varied in characteristics but were all shown in the same positive light.

Is there a difference between photographing someone who identifies as male and someone who identifies as female?
Yes, definitely, before starting my own series I noticed this a lot in the photographic movements of girls by girls and boys by girls. To me it implies that your gender and sexual preference play a role on how you perceive and want to portray certain people in photographs. Although I only focused on men in my “male gaze” series, by no means do I think that masculinity only relates to men and femininity only relates to women. As a heterosexual male I felt it was important to only focus on men. By removing my sexual preference, it allowed for a truer representation of the individual.

What do you think about the changing understanding of masculinity within pop-culture?
Progression in the understanding of masculinity can be seen in how younger up and coming creatives are using various artistic platforms and social media to portray new definitions of the word with in pop culture. Meanwhile, there is still a huge amount of the industry that is equally present and stuck in its out-dated attitude which needs to adjust itself to suit the current societal standards.

What is one thing you wish everybody would understand or know about gender, masculinity, and femininity?
I believe that a human being’s gender should come naturally and be discovered for themselves, rather than being dictated by the social conditioning of masculinity and femininity.

Liam Warton

What comes to your mind when thinking about the notion of masculinity?
I view masculinity and femininity as social constructions, and a way of categorising and measuring the behaviours of men and women. What first comes to mind regarding notions of masculinity would be the stereotypical portrayal of masculinity (hegemonic masculinity), one of dominance, strength and superiority. This type of masculinity is detrimental to the psychological health of men (with for example higher rates of suicide) and the continued oppression of women and those who don’t fit or identify with the norm. I believe that masculinity is multifaceted and complex and by questioning this stereotype and changing our perceptions of men and women (or non-binary), hopefully leads to more societal equity.

How do you want to bring your perception of masculinity across in your images?
My aim with the series is to embody two extremes and to challenge stereotypical perceptions. Where this strong and sexual traditional portrayal of masculinity meets the scrutiny and objectification that the female body has been historically subjected to, through the male gaze (in cinema and photography). Close up photos, fetishising and reducing the individual to nothing more than a body part.

Is there a difference between photographing someone who identifies as male and someone who identifies as female?
Why would it? I am not even always aware of which gender my subjects identify with.

What do you think about the changing understanding of masculinity within pop-culture?
Representations of masculinity and gender maybe evolving within pop-culture however there is still much more to explore and to change, in order for both sexes (or non-binary) to be portrayed equally. The reality of this slaps me in the face every time I open social media where I am confronted with hyper-sexualised and hyper-masculinsed images. I also feel that it is going to take some time for worthwhile changes to take place. I myself, being a heterosexual male, still feel discouraged to show a full range of emotions such as vulnerability, fear, hurt or despair. I also know through personal experiences, that this means that fewer men openly speak about their problems with each other and less men ask for psychological help as they are afraid of showing these emotions. The use of imagery is therefore a powerful tool, and I hope that my photographic work can hopefully contribute to a new discourse.It is important to note though, that imagery in pop-culture is not necessary reality; it can be a reflection but also a reaction to it. I am glad that cultural representations are changing, but in the end, it is a societal change I wish to see.

What is one thing you wish everybody would understand or know about gender, masculinity, and femininity?
As said previously said, masculinity and femininity are social constructions and not solely tied to one’s sex. Therefore, our understanding of gender is not fixed but can rather be fluid and possible to change. I feel that it is often misunderstood that gender is socially, not biologically constructed and by gasping this concept, means that it is possible for stereotypical gender constructions to be changed which in turn should lead to less sexism and discrimination.

Annika Weertz

What comes to your mind when thinking about the notion of masculinity?
When thinking about the notion of masculinity the male arche type comes to my mind. Physically strong and everything society believes a man has to be.

Should we even try to define what masculinity is in the first place?
Well, I think masculinity is such diffuse concept, just like femininity is. First of all, both words describe something as “of female or male gender.” The issue is that both words are so heavily defined by society’s expectations that a lot of people have a hard time identifying as female or male, because they don’t live up to these stereotypes.

How do you want to bring your perception of masculinity across in your images?
I want to emphasise that men do not have to live up to what is expected from them just because they were born male. In my images, I want to focus on their vulnerability and the beauty that lies within their fragile side. I hope to transport emotions or an atmosphere by creating an aesthetic space.

Is there a difference between photographing someone who identifies as male and someone who identifies as female?
I would like to think there isn’t a difference, but looking at my images I see that I like to portray women in an empowering and strong way while I prefer emphasising fragility and softness when it comes to shooting men.

What do you think about the changing understanding of masculinity within pop-culture?
Within pop culture, the understanding of gender in general has shifted noticeably, which is obviously good. It is nice to see that the concepts of gender are challenged. Still, I find there is a lot more focus on femininity than on masculinity and while that is a very good start, the focus should be on both concepts equally, in my opinion.

What is one thing you wish everybody would understand or know about gender, masculinity, and femininity?
I wish that the notions of masculinity will change overtime and that men will feel free to open up about their struggles and emotions without being seen as weak or unmanly. Generally, I think that having narrow minded perceptions of gender is a waste of time. I see it as a lot of other things in the world: Everyone should mind their own business and let people express themselves in whatever way they want as long as it does not harm anyone else.

Phoebe Jane Barrett

First of all: What comes to your mind when thinking about the notion of masculinity?
What comes to mind is society’s perception of masculinity and the damaging way in which this is pushed upon men and boys from childhood.

Should we even try to define what masculinity is in the first place?
It is a difficult question… There are traits which may naturally happen to be more attached to the masculine energy. But is this nature or nurture…? I don’t think there necessarily is such a problem with defining what may naturally be more masculine traits, but it can be problematic when masculinity is exclusively attached to being male. I think every individual has what are considered both masculine and feminine traits.

How do you want to bring your perception of masculinity across in your images?
I try to focus on a softer and more fragile side, conveying elements of masculinity which many men find it difficult to be open about.

Is there a difference between photographing someone who identifies as male and someone who identifies as female?
From experience I usually feel slightly more comfortable photographing men. As an introverted person, I think the kind of person they are and whether we naturally connect has a bigger influence than the gender they identify as.

What do you think about the changing understanding of masculinity within pop-culture?
Pop-culture is usually the first realm in which topics such as this can be experimented with. Perceptions of masculinity have definitely evolved through pop-culture, but I think we still have a long way to go in terms of challenging perceptions of masculinity, femininity, and gender stereotypes.

What is one thing you wish everybody would understand or know about gender, masculinity, and femininity?
That each individual has elements of both feminine and masculine energy, they don’t necessarily have to be attached to a particular gender and people should feel free in their expression of themselves and allow others the same freedom.

Curated by GIRLS’ “New Masculinity” will be on display at Blender Studios in Berlin on November 11th and 12th

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