What is real and what isn’t?
“Are you a man?” said Lady Macbeth to her husband, Macbeth. Using this as a title I hash tagged my Instagram #masculinity #mask_culinity; a banana skin on pink lace. I was playing tongue and cheek, using an age old cliche of banana/phallus as a provocation of values synonymous with English Renaissance! These terms are still used freely in playgrounds and classrooms and bedrooms. Gender specific roles as demanded by society become iconic masculinity or femininity. And this song and dance, performance on demand changes from culture to religion to class.
My current photographic work, Mas(k)culinities is creating portraits of diverse men *(and hopefully women). Conversationally views and anecdotes are gathered that provide a sonic portrait of what masculinity means to them individually. Revisiting of the participant’s past, brings rather beautiful images forth. I conclude these informal interviews by asking, “so how are we photographing you?”. ‘Not the royal ‘we’, rather one where both the subject and I are complicit in creating the portrait. There are times I take the lead in presenting how I want to photograph them and there are times one idea leads to an other. In a collaborative agency, a hug or a handshake as it were, the resulting image is a performance for the camera.
To the untrained eye these images may look like ordinary photographic portraits. However, what you see is not what it seems. “What is real and what isn’t?” has been, is and probably will remain part of our discourse. For Jean Baudrillard it’s “A real without origin or reality”. Umberto Ecco calls it the “The authentic fake”. Simply summated, hyperreal for me is an illusion of reality… but then… life is ‘maya’ and all is illusion. Present day software allow us to create fantastical images which we nonchalantly term with almost a disdain and camp dismissive swish of hand shoo them as ‘photo-shopped’.
What I call the HyperRealPortrait is a style that’s evolved over a period of a year while I have been working on Mas(k)culinities. The final singular image exists only in its post production state. Often its built from slices of over thirty individual photographs. From a fixed position and focal length, durationally taken between fifteen to twenty minutes, the person holds the same pose, as I capture the details guided by the final imagined image.
Drawing people was my first love where I could materialise likeness of people I desired, in poses I desired, on paper using my imagination. and as I grew older it allowed me to draw people whose faces I liked, either by them posing live for me or using photographs as reference material. This love got side tracked when camera came into my life. My energies started to connect more with photography because I realised how much I enjoyed the conversations with the people. Even though I can still paint and draw, photography is my love and especially portrait photography. With Mas(k)culinities, after a very long time, I feel closer to painting and drawing again. Each person and pose invites me to observe details and make choices of what I focus to enhance and what I leave to imagination.
Whilst exploring masks and how we all wear some sort of a social mask… be it a certain way in which we pose for photographs or how we conduct ourselves in public or private or how we let categories, lifestyle or gender define us. The series of portraits that I started to take with masks in mind, shifted focus as I found the parameters too wide. My interest in masculinity brought the much needed alignment. The portraits sort of become the masked performance of sorts. There is no singular masculinity, it is a collective notion of constructed do’s and don’ts that change according to each collective and social setting.
Resplendent with details where I want to direct the eyes, these silent portraits looking at the viewer are immensely therapeutic, meditative and questioning. In as much as the HyperRealPortraits are masks, they reveal so much vulnerability! Just like the terminology ‘masculinity’ itself, these portraits are at once simple and yet complex.
How to present this work, the process and the stories? I want Mas(k)culinities to be a platform where masculinity can be discussed and represented in the light of where it is now and how the expectation of its performance may change. I imagine the works being presented internationally as a transmedia narrative, comprising of spaces for exhibitions, soundscapes, short commissioned films, curated seasons and symposia, online participation and verbatim theatre.
This has been a process which started more than a year ago and I have photographed nearly seventy people thus far. The work in progress is shared on my FB page, yet online with the compressions and size limitations, one seldom gets a sense of the detail packed within each image.
Next month, Prof. Antonio Pizzo has invited me at Department of Humanities (University of Turin), to present the project to a group of academics, interactive media practitioners and students mainly from that Art and Media Curriculum. First outing of Mas(k)culinities will provide a critique, to evaluate the content and and to re-imagine the transformation!
Whatever your gender and background, get in touch if you would like to participate in the project by sharing your views, stories and a photo session for your HyperReal Portrait. For the moment this interaction is offered in my makeshift studio at Casa Ali.
Do read the article by Thomas Christiansen too!