I’ve been thinking lately of how Margaret Walters describes cubism in her 1978 monograph The Nude Male: A New Perspective: as having a primary theme of “the act of perception, the way the mind works on the external world.” Here, the external world consists primarily of the bodies of others, and indeed, little in art history has been “perceived” to the degree subjects of cubist nudes have, who traded their breathing, temporal bodies for the immortality of honest lines.
Surely in 2016 cubism seems a ridiculous way to document a body—perhaps not as ridiculous as a debut photographer describing his portraits as such—but here we are. The cubist notion of perception is the closest analogy I’ve found for what I hope my photographs accomplish. For example, I see my objectification as anecdotic rather than fantastic or erotic. While my primary subject is the nude male, my main concern—like many cubists and their futurist cousins—is time. I chose this subject for this ongoing project for two reasons: first, yes, these models hold my attention quicker than would, say, branches of hyacinth, and second, queering the time constraining men seems to me a crucial endeavor.
Before he reaches old age, the male nude has been historically categorized in only two ways: the slight, ephebic youth (what critic Susan Bordo would call a “leaner”) or an intimidating, muscular “rock.” The nudity of the first is an invitation, the second a warning—a duality which spreads itself across our cultural landscape: jock and fairy, Hercules and Narcissus, top and bottom, etc. Often when this dichotomy is traversed it is by ageing, as seen in Thomas Eakins’s painting The Swimming Hole; as Walters notes: “the different nudes are carefully distinguished by age: the diving boy is still immature; the youth who stands so confidently, his back to us, is in the full vigor of young manhood.”
In Draping and Motion Studies I aim to erode that dichotomy by exploring with single images the times in which men fall in between those categories—which is to say, always. I have never met a man who is truly one or the other, and I resent how their beauty is recorded as such. I am grateful for other young contemporaries also doing this work: Luke Austin, Travis Chantar, Freddy Krave, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, etc.
Movement is my chief aid. The body is in a constant state of flux, and the surest way for me to explore that temporality is to document how I perceive it. This strikes me as a cubist attitude, and I wonder what one would have done with a digital camera. I suppose, as their moment has passed, there isn’t a way to know.