In the last few years we’ve seen a number of inspiring artist-driven movements challenging the global, deep-rooted system of patriarchy. It’s important to center the voices of those most affected by its violence – queer folk, gender non-conforming people, women, lower caste communities, and so on – but what’s often left on the sidelines is how patriarchy affects men, too. Generations of male conditioning have pushed a singular definition of what ‘manhood’ is – one that all men must unanimously live up to through whatever means necessary. From being told “real men don’t cry” to expressing “masculinity” through violence, many men are under incredible pressure to conform to a machismo-centric society that self-perpetuates its own tropes.
Through their evocative and thought-provoking work, a number of photographers are exploring the intersections between masculinity, tenderness and sexuality. We put together a list of our favourites.
I. Pulkit Mogha
“We resist before we embrace anything that makes us uncomfortable,” says 25-year-old Pulkit Mogha, who hails from Uttar Pradesh and is currently based in Goa. His body of work emphasizes feelings of vulnerability and intimacy between men and sheds light on queer love in a riveting way. You’re given a window into a private moment, beautifully captured, like you’re a part of it. Mogha explains that his work is a personal take on identity and estrangement. “I believe I contribute to the art of the first person, and take photos of vulnerabilities I relate to, in the hope of understanding them: photos of same-sex intimacies (like his acclaimed photo essay on cruising), of ostracised communities (poz, an on-going photo essay), of a softer masculinity muted under toxic hegemonic machismo (holding hands, an on-going photo essay).”
II. Arka Patra
Arka Patra’s beautiful photos deal with the exploration of human desires, and especially a surrealist approach to classic narratives of male love. His series, ‘Portraits of Men’ is especially poignant. “Throughout art history, the portrayal of women’s bodies has been for the service of the male gaze. Here I wanted to create a similar sense of ethereal beauty but on the body of a man,” he says. He hopes that by openly addressing sexuality and defying traditional images of gender, his audiences will spread an attitude of open dialogue beyond the gallery walls and into public discourse.
Having grown up in the suburbs of West Bengal, photographer Raqeeb “uses portraits of the body to subvert traditional expectations of male imagery and sexuality. His work celebrates those men excluded by the homogeneity of mainstream media.” His work is an attempt to deconstruct how we look at male sexuality, challenging the “washboard abs” narrative to include men who don’t typically conform. His photographs are not only visually striking but also have a relatable, intimate quality that make them impossible to not be captivated by.
IV. Debrati Sanyal
The brilliant fashion photographer Debrati Sanyal teamed up with stylist Ojas Kolvankar to spur discussions about gendered clothing and how patriarchy manifests in our everyday choices. Their photo-series, “The Male Gaze,” is aimed at challenging Indian society’s definition of masculinity. The photographs show model Himanshu Singh aka Humhu — clad in what would not be termed as “quintessentially masculine” attire — posing in public places across Mumbai. The collaboration focuses on men’s reactions to Singh’s various looks or as the title suggests, it is a documentation of ‘the male gaze’. “Why can’t I wear a dark pink lace shirt and go out? Why don’t I have that colour or textile option for me in the store? Why should I be perceived in a certain way if I wear something flamboyant?” These were some questions Sanyal’s friend posed, and became central to the gorgeous series.
V. Rajib Dutta
A freelance photographer based in Kolkatta, Rajib Dutta’s work is an exploration of men showing off their bodies in the ways that make them comfortable. “Nakedness isn’t nudity,” he says – the spirit of which is captured through his artistic renditions of the male form. Using light and shadow as central aesthetic elements, his work captures the insecurities men face everyday, as well as some shots of intimacy and love in an age of toxicity.
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