Broad shoulders, sculpted jaws, hard abdomen and refined cheekbones? Not in the photography of portraitist *Joseph Barret*t. In this interview, he talks about breaking preconceived notions of masculinity in the context of the gender spectrum.
Hi Joseph, welcome to Lomography Magazine! Firstly, what do you love (and) hate (if there's any) about contemporary portraiture trends?
Thanks for having me.
I don’t really like to go into anything with a love/hate attitude, as often, you have to understand that not everyone will see eye to eye and everyone is entitled to a personal opinion. That being said, in my own portraiture work I like to give a somewhat honest representation of my subject, so I tend to dislike when people heavily over edit images, especially the eyes and air brushing of the skin. An unrealistic photo doesn’t appeal to me.
It might just be me, but most portraitists seem to have more women as subjects than with men. And when men are having their portraits taken, they are often painted in an ultra-masculine manner. Yours, however, does not. May you elaborate to us your style in portraying men?
I have never really had an idea of how I want to portray ‘men’ as a whole. With The Male Gaze series, it mainly consisted of documenting my friends, who generally have a non-generic ‘macho’ manner about them anyway.
My photographic style played a big part on how the subject was portrayed; it was all very soft and intimate. I would deliberately ask the models to do things such as rest their hands in their lap; this is to make the shoulders less prominent, therefore resulting in a ‘non’ masculine pose. It did make me laugh when I saw some of the responses I had received to my i-D article, one mentioning that ‘the combined weight of these models was probably less than 75kg, so how could it be masculine?’ but in reality I had a pretty diverse range of body types involved.
I don’t want any of my photos to be gender bias or sexualised in any way; I wanted The Male Gaze series to stand by itself without the underlying tone of my personal sexual preference or gender, as it has nothing to do with the concept of this series. I would always want to look at and capture my subjects with a ‘gender-less lens’; the photographs should be about them as an individual.
You've discussed in the Vice article about how outdated the term the 'male gaze' is. So we hope you can share us a secret. Do you think men are just as stereotyped like women? What's the most common misconception society/media/people make when it comes to men?
I feel like we can’t really escape being stereotyped, everyone somehow experiences it. But yes, I do feel that men are stereotyped, just like women. There is a lot of pressure put on men, young or old, to look a certain way. We have been socialized into believing that there is a ‘perfect male body’, and if you don’t have rock solid abs then you must want it. To be ‘masculine’ should be more than just shallow physical appearance, I feel that personality and identity is often lost in a perfection driven industry. As a society we are starting to accept and embrace diversity, and we have made progress in seeing beauty in individuality. I think this is really exciting.
What's your favorite part of the human body, and why?
I have never particularly favouritised a part of the human body before. I find it normally varies from person to person; I tend to look for certain characteristics, which are unique to them.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Whom are your muses?
With the accessibility to so many images in one app, Instagram definitely plays a big part. Although I find often that the inspiration I take from Instagram is usually not very layered, it’s purely visual.
It’s an ambition of mine to produce a book one day, so I always tend to gravitate towards more context heavy photo series, rather than a single image, for more than just visual inspiration. I recently saw an exhibition that I really loved by London based photographers Pani Paul and Lola Paprocka, showcasing their new book ‘Ed Forbis’. This is a good example of a more contextual based photo series. Another photographer whose body of work recently interested me recently was Lucas Foglia. I think I find work like this is so appealing because it gives me a sense of drive to go and do something similar myself.
Which particular photography gear you can't leave the house without?
I actually keep it very simple, I use an Olympus om10 35mm SLR with a 50mm lens. Beyond that it’ll be whatever film I’m using at the time. The Male Gaze was all shot on the Agfa Vista 200 (aka poundland film).
If you could work or collaborate with any photographer, who would it be?
I’m definitely a big fan of Harley Weir, it would be cool to either work or collaborate with her.
What do you usually do during your downtime? Any on-going project, or other plans you're keen to work on?
I’m currently working a full time job so I find my downtime is quite limited, but I’m always trying to work on my personal photography when I can find the time and energy. I also skateboard so I do try to fit that in whenever I can, and definitely enjoy some bantering time with my girlfriend.
In terms of projects, I think my The Male Gaze series will be an on-going one, I’m keen to keep adding to it when I have time. I’ve also got a few ideas lined up with various friends that I’m excited about, so I’ll just have to see where they end up going.