Gender Balance in the Photographic Modelling World and Beyond / by Mike Stacey

The question I asked myself and which I recently posed publically to other male photographers was, "why do you only shoot women?" At the time there were actually a few people outside the photographic world asking me the same question.

I didn't think my own response a year and a half ago was adequate so I started shooting men. But then I stopped again and went back to almost exclusively women.

Recently I've been inspired to pursue this again through much collaboration and many philosophical conversations with Loz Lightyear. Her insights, collaboration and support can't be underestimated. Her passion is invested in this work. It's a project. The results of my own investigations which resulted from basic research into the Instagram platform (see previous post), revealed a whole heap of shyte under the covers, that I can't ignore. One of my actions resulted in complete Instagram account deletion - some words about that here. If you ever wonder what that's like, or you think it wouldn’t affect you much, then give it a go, be my guest. Put it on the line.

The imbalance of gender representation can have multiple insidious effects and contribute to the one thing we ALL whinge and moan about - censorship. We all just love moaning about that shit but we do fuck all about it. If you are a male photographer and you're moaning about censorship and your profile consists exclusively of female nudes, and you are on Instagram, don't talk to me about it. I don't care what your 'intent' is, be it art or whatever, it isn't being consumed as art - on Instgaram at least. If you don't give a shit, then cool, keep doing what you're doing and stop reading this.

Essentially, we're too soft and we care too much about our own personal shit and our own personal profiles. Even the 'aged' ones amongst us have become narcissistic, in the extreme. This is what I can't handle about myself.

When you actually sit down and start thinking about it, the why and the how of it all, you see stuff, and most of it's shit. But you do see ways of addressing it. One thing I hate doing is toeing lines drawn in the sand by some other fucker, especially when the other fucker is a powerful corporate giant. The next article will be about some of those connections. 

The Poll

So after asking 'the question' I did actually get many responses. The responses (about shooting only women) could be categorised into three areas (there would be more with a proper study but I reckon these three would be at the top anyway):

  1. The aesthetics of the male form aren't as elegant or 'flexible' as the female form. 
  2. There is a shortage of available male models.
  3. I don't feel as comfortable shooting men.

Give me a fucking big break. Fuck sake. I don't believe any of these are true. I think, like my former self, I floundered for an answer (an excuse)  because I just didn't know the real reason why I shot mainly women - or I did but didn't want to admit the real reason - start digging deep guys - and enjoy the exploration into your own life. I have a much clearer idea now.

So, those points above:

  1. Men have their own form and way of posing (speaking of figure work anyway) and there is a definite 'male elegance' to be explored and unearthed. It's not as obviously easy as shooting an experienced female nude figure model of course! But that's why it's fun - you get to challenge yourself (beyond the technical parameters of photography) and you get to explore largely unchartered territory. Adventure I think it's called - stepping outside the box and taking a good look around.
     
  2. This one again isn't true. There may be fewer male models around but there are easily enough, on the east coast of Australia anyway, to keep you busy for a long time. Where are they then? Advertise and you'll find out. DO something. Get the word out that you want to shoot men. I placed an ad in Facebook and on Instagram about 6 months ago and received some great responses. More recently, I've been harping on about it and now have a number of guys to shoot. Most of these guys have been 'given' to me by female partners who believe in this cause and also want to seen and heard - so why not give them a fucking voice!
     
  3. Not comfy shooting men? Don't get that one. Men understand men don't they? I think maybe viewing other men nude might be the problem? Dunno. I had one story relayed to me that a certain photographer just couldn't stand it, couldn't stand looking at another man's penis. WTF? 

    Maybe it's my background, but seeing another bloke nude is fine by me. I've also worked in places such as coal mines and shearing sheds, where a whole shift of men strip off in one room and all shower next to each other at the same time talking, joking and generally mucking about. So what? How come photographers can't hack it?

    When you shoot commercially, and in areas on the fringes of our so called 'society', there's some enlightening tales that are worthy of mention here. I've had a few conversations with other male photographers lately around shooting men and had one particularly funny one just the other day. A friend who shoots commercially (and will remain nameless - lets call him Bill), was shooting a male escort who needed images of himself half erect, so he informed Bill quite bluntly "I'm just gonna get myself hard OK?" Bill responded, "yea that's fine mate I'll just go check all my gear's ready, give me a yell when you're right to go!" Cool. Life. If you're holding a camera, you're an adaptable animal.

The work I'm doing with the men I'm shooting is exciting and rewarding. It's challenging and enlightening and soulful - spending time with other guys in this way. I look for pretty much the exact same things whether it's a male or female in front of the lens - it doesn't feel much different photographically and I'm certainly not uncomfortable about being around a nude bloke. The dynamic is different of course, but your communication style etc. doesn't have to change in the slightest. If you can't handle it, you’re limiting yourself and your professional career as a photographer is looking doubtful.

The Camera as a Communication Device

The camera, when used properly, is, more than anything else, a communication device. You can experience other people in a way that you could never experience them otherwise, especially complete strangers - when there is a camera connecting you to those people (speaking mainly portrait photography here). And what I'm seeing through the lens with men is what I've always firmly believed; men are deep, sensitive, complex and continuingly surprising - and that shouldn't be a surprise - but sadly it is for many people. 

Jumping into another thread now but, the patriarchal society that men have created effects men themselves in an incredibly negative way - this should never be forgotten - in fact this point needs highlighting and illustrating - check the latest male suicide rates. So there's a small snippet of information about men that you could use to build a whole series of artistic work on! Go to it art photographer!

A List of Male Models

I'm compiling a list of male models so I can refer male models (many won't be models) to selected photographers at some stage. Many of the people on the list have been referred to me by other people, namely models and collaborators such as primarily Loz Lightyear and more recently Kat Campbell (I'll link when I find the link). If you say you can't find a male model, I'll get my fucking gear off for you, just message me, I have no issues doing that.

My Personal Preference?

Is to shoot women. Ask me why, I'll tell you. But not all the time - it's a story called 'Balance', and in order to address the shyte beneath the covers of 'social' media, censorship and big tangents to art, you just have to make an effort. Plus, being primarily a humanist - i.e portrait photographer, I see so many areas within my own gender that can be addressed with a camera in my hand. So much potential.

If you read this far, congratulations.

Here are some recent shots - and look I'm giving them to you for fucking free! Make the best of it. These represent my take on men based primarily on my way of shooting, and my personal emotional state, which is usually about the person, not the body. You'll of course hopefully have your own ideas (yes, please have youtr own ideas) and interpretations on how to shoot and portray men.

Phil, first 5 minutes in front of a camera, ever.

Phil & Kat

Ryan

Eric Clayton - late sixties, life model.

Eric - he's sixty-something - and he's a man

Eric Clayton - the male form is so inelegant. pfffft.