It all started with this photo of Nagash Mamo in Ethiopia in 2011. I went out looking to take someones portrait in this village in the south of Ethiopia and Nagash ushered me over towards him to take his portrait. Throughout the next hours of walking to his hut, stopping along the way, having coffee, and taking photos, the idea of “MAN” came about. What if I researched and studied how different cultures define men? That sounds like a vast study and somewhat unclear, but after traveling for so many years at this point in 2011 I knew it was possible because I’m not going to stop traveling anytime soon.
After experiencing North American, African, Western and Eastern European cultures at this point in my life I already had a bit of an idea of the stereotypes different people have from different countries. Knowing stereotypes helps create and understand the idea of the concept behind MAN. Not only stereotypes that can be negative or positive, but knowing I’ve lived and visited multiple of these places along the way and made friends. Not only did I have some “theology” to latch onto for this concept, but I had physical evidence in some cases, as in my friends from these countries and cultures.
Therefore the idea of MAN was brewing for a year or year and a half until I actually started intentionally taking photos for the concept of MAN. I didn’t want my portraits of every single male to be labeled as MAN, but I wanted a certain style and aesthetic to them. That’s when I thought about taking portraits of men shirtless. Sounds scandalous but the idea is that not only does our culture define us, but also our bodies. Our skin patterns, hair, color, markings, scars, tattoos, deformities, strengths, and weaknesses show a part of who we are in different aspects.
Take a look at these three portraits I found online that is marketing the upcoming The Hunger Games : Mockingjay Part 1 film. They’re brilliant and educational for me because they clearly show that each of these guys have a different lifestyle, which portray what men are and do in their district, or their own little world and culture.
You always hear from your friends the typical saying, “Are you man enough?”. Implying that if you don’t do this certain thing they’re asking or challenging you with, then you aren’t “man enough.” Sometimes you aren’t “man enough” if you don’t eat a spicy dish, or lift heavy things, or confront someones mistake, or ask a girl on a date. All these things could follow the saying, “Are you man enough?” Therefore, this saying doesn’t imply one circumstance and stereotype, but a vast of stereotypes and circumstances.
You don’t have to be a body builder to be a real man, you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a real man, you don’t have to be a farmer to be a real man, you absolutely can be these things as a man, but these things don’t make their manhood more manly because of that. Often times we think these lies are actually truth. “I do have to have a toned body or a successful job in order to be a real man.” Even though I have only taken photos of my North American friends so far in this concept of MAN, my future goal is to take photos like this of people I meet along my travels who I do get to know personally, and hopefully from different cultures to display as clearly as these Hunger Games portraits have.
With that said, I hope my concept of MAN will show you what a “real man” is in different cultures and spheres of society.