Are you masculine? Inverting Chad States’ project

4 Jan

During the early Devon days — and so far the same is holding true during the Devon Britt-Darby days — some of my most popular scenes in Washington, D.C.; New York; Providence; and Boston involved wrestling themes. Now, as then, I let clients photograph or shoot video of me during sessions, and sometimes they share it with me.

In the case of the photos in this post — all taken last week — the photographer brought wrestling gear, which I have to admit is pretty sexy, but I supplied the mask. I bought it in San Francisco this summer to wear at the Dore Alley street fair, a.k.a. Up Your Alley — the smaller, more local variation on the touristy Folsom Street Fair. Best investment I ever made. Already it’s in huge demand in Providence, where I’ll be stopping tonight, and in Boston.

Taking photos with my client reminded me of Chad StatesMen at Their Most Masculine series, which he discussed here:

I found all my subjects through Craigslist. I began by asking the question “Are you masculine?” in the heading. In the body of the posting I talked briefly about the project. Much to the effect of: “I am doing a photography project on masculinity. If you identify as being masculine, please get back to me.” I intentionally leave it gender-neutral so males, females and transpeople feel free to respond. Most of the respondents are men, but a few are female and a few are trans. I posted to a bunch of different categories to cast as wide a net as possible. …

I meet with everyone as strangers at their own homes. … I take about 10 photographs during a two- to three-hour process. Every move is slow and very intentional. The subjects have made specific decisions about the way they are posing. I am never catching them off-guard or unaware. If you notice that in all of the photographs the subject is looking directly at the camera. This is the only request that I insist on. I want this to be in their hands as much as possible. Though in the end, the photographer does always have ultimate control—this is especially true in the editing process.

States’ project came in for some feminist critique a couple years ago from Kjerstin Johnson at bitchmedia and Paddy Johnson, one of the straight women who came tantalizingly close to accepting my legally-binding-performance-art marriage proposal. (I don’t know whether the Johnsons are related.) Kjerstin Johnson:

Like me, interviewer Nozlee Samadzadeh found some humor in the work (see Parker below–“I have been called a SNAG–Sensitive New Age Guy.”) But when States is asked “To what extent is this project exploitative of these guys’ conception of themselves as masculine?” he agrees–it is exploitative. Just because a subject gets to choose how they dress and where they’re photographed doesn’t mean they have final say over how they’re depicted in a larger project, i.e., whose “most” masculinity fit the project as a whole).

I think what I did with my clients at a vernacular level — and am doing again — inverts States’ project to some extent, since the clients are making the photos and directing the shots. I some photos, I assume a position of total vulnerability, which somehow makes me feel as masculine as the shots in which I appear more menacing or dominant. I am, however, free to do as I wish with whatever images they share with me.

The same, of course, is true of them. This YouTube video, shot seven or eight years ago when I would have been in the peak stages of my crystal meth addiction, has been floating around for a couple years. It’s hard for me to watch now, even as I take a certain pleasure in the respectable view count and the mostly — surprisingly — favorable comments, despite my scrawniness:

Despite the angst I had about being outed about my colorful past, I never even looked into trying to get this video pulled. Nor the various fake escort ads featuring eight-year-old pics of me for I occasionally get random solitications. No question about it: Part of me wanted to get outed, which is why I ultimately outed myself.

This morning I’m kicking myself on two counts: I should have tried to get in touch with the Philadelphia-based States while I was in town, and I totally meant to ask Paddy Johnson, who wrote a great post about my marriage and its aftermath, out for coffee or a drink while I was in New York. I never get as much done as I meant to. (Don’t take it personally, Paddy. My wife and I had to make a New Year’s resolution to start texting or tweeting each other every day, as we’d slacked off to once a week. I’m hardly an ideal husband, unless you really, really like your space.)

One Response to “Are you masculine? Inverting Chad States’ project”

  1. Hoax January 4, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I longed to have a military husband….gone for 6 months out of the year. I might make that relationship work.

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