To say that this project was intense would be an understatement. It was the first time that I had to submit a proposal and work within a specific concept for an extended period of time. It was maddening. It was frustrating. It pushed me into areas I was incredibly uncomfortable with. In the end, it was one of the best experiences I ever had, and I feel that I have produced one of my best bodies of work to date.
My initial proposal was to create a photo book of cyanotype composites that addressed toxic masculinity. The idea was inspired by the backlash to Harry Styles appearing on the cover of Vogue in a dress, as well as seeing a straight married man wear skirts and heels to work ("clothing should not have a gender," he says). The cyanotypes were to be a series of classically masculine images overlaid with images I would shoot that would be contradictions to the base images, creating a dialogue and conversation around toxic masculinity and toxic attitudes, and hopefully causing viewers to question why they felt certain ways when seeing these images. I still want to do this, but at a later date. As the project evolved, I gradually shifted away from cyanotypes and eventually from the book form. Instead of composites, I began creating still life photos that I thought were representational of toxic attitudes, but they were either too literal or did not effectively convey what I wanted them to.
I soon realized that the scope of the project was too broad. I narrowed it to toxic masculinity within the LGBTQ community, but even that was still too broad; I was trying to tell too many stories for just one project. From here I narrowed it further to my own experiences with toxic masculinity. It was at this point that I began to have a serious reflection of who I am and how these experiences shaped me. I began to realize that the environments I grew up in, especially when I was coming to terms with my sexuality, shaped me tremendously. I grew up in a very accepting family, but society was always dictating what men should or should not do, how they should dress/appear, how to act and react, etc. It was then that I realized I was never given the freedom or space to truly explore and find my real self. The result of this has been spending my life dressing and acting conservatively, not out of a shame of being gay, but out of shame and fear of ridicule for being my authentic self (whatever that may be).
This project helped me with that discovery. The photographs evolved from still life scenarios to photos of myself, both portraying toxic attitudes and self-discovery. Portraiture has always intimidated me, and I do not like taking my own photograph, so my limits were really pushed into uncomfortable territory for this. The end result is a series of thirteen photographs that are raw, vulnerable, and exposed. These are not the most comfortable photographs to see, which was my intention - I wanted to create a dialogue and conversation with this work, and make viewers address their own prejudices towards what society deems unacceptable.