I have had a discussion with this model around my use of masking within this project. He has a broad interest in traditional folklore and was able to inform me about some aspects of these tales which strike a resonance with my intent. The tradition of ‘Guise’ (Geese, Goosey or Guize) Dancing, while not unique to Cornwall as a tradition, the name itself possibly is. A tradition of dance, music, drama, procession and song with its roots around the idea of disguise. From my point of view the interesting aspect is the swapping of gender roles with men dressing as women and vice-versa. While little written evidence exists there is an oral reputation that this covered some rather salubrious behaviour on the part of women as well as men; no doubt lubricated by alcohol and high spirits. The act of wearing masks for this night of revelry enabled people to express hidden natures and desires without the chance of being discovered. Often these handmade masks were depictions of animals which had their reflections in the wearers animalistic behaviour. We see a similar use of masks in the Venice Carnival where masks were worn in no small part to cover promiscuous and hedonistic behaviour.
(Fig. 1 & Fig. 2) I have photographed this object before but was not 100% happy I had done it justice. It is a hand-carved wooden puzzle box with the face of a Green Man which speaks of the pagan spirituality of it’s owner. The box (Fig. 2) holds a poignant content. When the owner returned home from work one day he was devastated to find his lover had passed away in an armchair during the day. As an act of grief he cut off his own beard and hid it in this box as a keepsake and memento-mori. To the casual observer it is a strange item and my framing and positioning of it has brought out an anthropomorphic mask to the object; with the lugs appearing as ears, the cut-out like a sheep’s nose & the eyes would be hidden beneath the hairy contents. I feel Fig. 1 is a little too commercial; rather like an advertising image for a product catalogue. Fig. 2 has the layer of intrigue that would potentially draw the eye of the viewer to puzzle over the subject matter and wish to know it’s tale.
(Fig. 3) The last time I photographed this man I was not happy with the anonymous naked portraits I managed to capture. I had not incorporated the mirror aspect of the project and my decision to use them limits the possibilities even more. I keep returning to the use of mirrors as a weapon to combat our negative feelings of self-worth “Every single person on this planet knows what it’s like to stand in front of the mirror and hack themselves into pieces…” (“Dethcrash” 2017). So the combination of making the ‘pose’ look natural while keeping the anonymity and also ensuring the image flatters makes for a high standard to achieve. I think I am part-way there with this image. There is the clutter of personal objects that sweep around the central frame and the mirror acts as a window into another space; a space where the central figure lies hidden yet in full graphic view. The subject covers his face to assume some degree of anonymity yet his pose is vulnerable; he exposes this potentially helpless stance yet proudly displays his manhood which in itself holds threatening connotations.
I also find a couple of objects within the shot create an odd juxtaposed dynamic; the majority of the objects are hand-crafted or vintage but the digital clock, PVC window and radiator clash with the atmosphere of the rest.
(Fig. 4) The lighter area of the shot draws you immediately into the reflected mirror image. The strong character that dominates this space is no feminised fairy stereotype but a big burly bear of a man accentuated by his bushy beard, which is the only part of his face visible – enabling him to retain some degree of anonymity. The image is cluttered with details to be read…guides to his personality and character which take the place of the portrait he is unable to show. From pagan and phallic symbolism, classical Greek statuary (and the gay semiotics this represents), Viking mythology and Native American spiritualism; through to a flag that represents his home country as well as masks used in traditional folklore which mirror the masking I am exploring within this project. There is a gentle nod to feminine ideals of masculinity with the mug printed with a picture of a bare chested Aiden Turner in his role of Ross Poldark…an actor playing a fictionalised Cornish character placed beside an example of a true Cornishman.
I am unsure which of these two representations of this man are the better image. Fig. 3 I feel has a more interesting dynamic in the pose of the model; he is less dominant within the composition and it makes for a more subtle narrative. Yet I cannot help but feel the pose is more of a nude rather than a naked portrait – as Berger (p. 54) would argue he is placing himself on display. Fig. 4 is a more natural position – a figure without clothes rather than being deliberately stripped of them. There is also more of the personal possessions to be read. However I think he is possibly too dominant and his manhood a little too prominent and threatening – yet again though, as part of the intent of my project is to challenge phallophobia perhaps I should not be so concerned about the dominance of his dick.
As the project has built up I think I need to have some larger prints to enable me to give proper consideration to an edit – to see which images are strongest and which work in conjunction to speak of the portraits of these men. Seeing them on a screen does not allow me to to this successfully and I need to review at this stage to see if the project is working as I wish and if not what may need to change.
Berger, J. Ways Of Seeing, (London: Penguin Books, 1972, p. 54)
Dethcrash, China. (2017) Ugly Gays hiskind.com [online] Available at https://hiskind.com/ugly-gays/ accessed [18th May 2017]