The gaze and the ethics of looking are concepts that are particularly relevant to the way I work. With the majority of my practice centred around the male nude it is fascinating to explore the politics of the penis as well.
When it comes to the gaze within my own work – it can come from several different viewpoints depending on what I am exploring that day; indeed sometimes several viewpoints within the same image. Often my images are voyeuristic/scopophilic/fetishistic in nature when I am shooting from a sensual stand, but sometimes I wish to question perceived stereotypes so I approach from a challenging viewpoint instead. And what of the Queer Gaze? Does it exist or is it merely the patriarchal gaze turned upon itself where instead of objectifying the passive female we worship the active male? Does this give us a fractured confused gaze upon the world or a clearer view of balance?
When working with my models I have a responsibility to ensure they are not photographed in a compromising way. The ethics of looking, from my part, start with my ethics in photographing them. My work is invariably shown in a context where it will be best received i.e. within the artistic gay community where the nude male is no longer a taboo, but appreciated; even if that community is one of the worse at cultivating body shaming. Jenny Saville points out that” People’s bodies have become a commodity” and there is such a degree of commodification within the gay media it is little wonder so many young gay men have a distorted view of what they should look like – the gay media worships the cult of youth and the idolisation of Adonis. This is not a healthy position to be upholding.
Much of this weeks presentations covered ground I had been aware of from previous studies, but some things I was reminded of in particular when it comes to my work were –
- The Ethics of Looking – how we objectify the body ideal and how that ideal is used to sell products
- Scopophilia – the pleasure we gain from looking; in particular at the nude form. A great deal of my work relies upon the viewer finding the beauty in the images I take of my models. But this is in an empowering way as often they come to me with a distorted body-image of themselves.
- Voyeurism – my work enables the viewers to be voyeurs as often I am relied upon to retain the anonymity of the model so it leaves you with little excuse not to objectify them. And there is my personal need to capture the image – not as a form of power over the subject, but as proof of my skill; as an object of beauty that I have created which leads on to –
- Fetishism – this can be a literal term as the gay scene is full of different types of fetish that I am often asked to portray (skinhead, leather, suits, underwear etc) but there is also the symbolic fetish as theorised by Christian Metz in his discourse. And the fetish object that I have brought into being with my camera.
Watching Vile Bodies again with the years of knowledge and experience behind my eyes gave me a renewed appreciation of the artists featured. Jenny Saville’s malleable sculptural forms which comment upon “presumptions we make about people’s physical appearance”; John Coplans beautiful black and white self-portraits of “the old naked man, that’s really taboo – no-one wants to see that” and Joel Peter Witkins carefully staged and manipulated tableaux that show “…there is a beauty to deformity if you allow yourself to see it” he reminds us that “we honour empty beauty…the quick aesthetic fix of the body in flesh”. My work has and always will attempt to fight back against the cult of youth and beauty by beautifying the everyday – the average guy next door can and should be as proud of themselves as any gym-bunny and I am proud to help them prove that.
“Naked” Vile Bodies. Channel 4. 1997. Television.