Ever since the dawn of humankind, sex and sexuality have been an integral part of it. Throughout many different periods in time, society has developed particular attention towards the female nude, often for pure objectification of a woman’s body. While modern-day consciousness fights to stop this kind of behavior, a New York photographer introduced us a to a whole new world of the understanding of the human nude figure in art, as she solely focuses on the naked male body. She wanted to ask a question of the position of male nude photography in the contemporary art world. What happens when you expose Bare Men to a wider audience? You open a sort of a Pandora box.
Abigail Ekue is a writer whose essays focus on a variety of things, but one of her main topics is erotica. She is the author of short story collections, like The Darker Side of Lust and Exhaust Pipes, but writing about sex isn’t the only thing she does best - she also photographs nude men in a very intimate way. She is interested in promoting positive body image and to show a different side of the male nude, the one that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with gay porn or mere visual pleasure.
Editors’ Tip: Bare Men: A Male Nude
Abigail Ekue’s Bare Men photo series aims to portray men who are comfortable with who they are and who enjoy being in their own skin. In a way, their nudity becomes the less important part of her photos, while strong emotions, vulnerability and an expression of personal experience take over the narrative. Challenging the taboos, the Bare Men photographs are intimate, private, insightful, sensitive, sensual and even surprising.
Bare Men is Abigail Ekue’s first photography book and it features the first 8 men from this ongoing nude male photography series. It is scheduled for release in 2015. We talked to Abigail about her intentions behind this unusual project, the unexpected response she had in regards and how a nude photography contest jury first accepted, then rejected the photos because they were too… nude.
Widewalls: You are interested in presenting the male nude, which is quite rare these days, given that we're overwhelmed with the female nude most of the time. What do you think are the differences between these two representations? How would you compare the two?
Abigail Ekue: Because we are bombarded with the female nude, that is one of the main reasons for my Bare Men project. The female nude is considered more acceptable and desired and it is usually thought that the public only wants to view female nudes. But there are people who want to see male nudes and not just for the gay male audience or for strictly anatomical purposes. Male nudes shouldn't be rare - the stigma that naked men are "ugly" or the myth that a penis is threatening or only sexual should be dispelled. I pitched the Bare Men book to a publisher a few years ago and was told they wouldn't be able to offer distribution because they've had a hard time selling gay male titles. The rejection was based on the assumption that my work was for the gay market simply because it featured male nudes.
Widewalls: In your own words, why is it important we have photos like these in today's society?
AE: Men have the desire to be desired and sought after, even objectified in some situations. I think male nude photography that is constantly presented as faceless and sans phallus isn't reality. The hairless, androgynous figures seen on the runways aren't the majority neither is the man with the 8-pack abs. I'm using Bare Men to represent all shapes and sizes not only a select group. And that's my thing. I'm very big on capturing the men I work with as they are. Art should be inclusive, so when the public can see men that look like them or men in their lives represented, that art is better received.
Widewalls: How would you describe the experience of approaching these men for portraits? Were there any unexpected or particular reactions?
AE: When I first started Bare Men, the men I approached were friends who I figured would agree to pose for me and I knew we could get some great photos. I think some of the men may assume I'm hitting on them or asking them to pose for me is my way of flirting. Once they view my portfolio and understand the terms of the project they're all for it. The majority of the men I've worked it had never modeled nude before working with me so I'm grateful that they trust me enough to let me into their homes and go through with the photoshoot. The majority of men that have answered my calls for models have been great to work with too.
The most common question I get is men wondering what will happen if they get an erection or if they get aroused. I make sure the men understand that only what they're comfortable having photographed will be photographed. Some use their time with me to push past their comfort zones and the results are usually fantastic. When it comes to the erotic shoots, some men want me to explicitly request the erotic elements. There's this power play they try to engage in with me. Nude is nude; I don't require a man to stroke his penis simply because his clothes are off.
Widewalls: While creating these images, did you have a vision of a specific photographic work, an aesthetic - or a photographer - in mind?
AE: I first envisioned Bare Men as a series of individual photo stories for each man. That's how I was presenting them on my website initially. The way the shoots go, it could still be presented that way but I also love candid and editorial photography so many images have that aesthetic. Also whether the photo is a portrait, bodyscape, editorial, erotic, documentary I still choose images that have emotion, convey the emotion of the man and elicit an emotional response in the viewer. We're seeing these men in moments when they're usually alone or only with people they are intimate with. It speaks to the voyeur in all of us.
Widewalls: Seeing your dedicated interest in the Body Image, can you tell our readers about your other projects related to this topic and perhaps your in-progress projects at this moment?
AE: I’m not currently working on any other photography projects besides Bare Men that are promoting positive body image. When I shot a lot of self-portraits, I received notes and emails that my work was helpful in dealing with body image, so inadvertently that art was related to that topic. Some of my writing touched on body image and the advice column I had on my blog addressed body image issues.
Widewalls: Last year, your work was selected for a juried show only to be removed due to the nudity. Apparently, your nudes were too nude for a nudes art show. Can you tell us what happened?
AE: I think the whole thing was ridiculous and at the time played out like Them vs. Me. After applying for the juried show, and having my selection of non-erotic nude photographs chosen for the show, I reached out to the curator to ask for a graphic or link I could use for promotion (the date of the show had been pushed back). The curator contacted me to tell me that my work would be removed from the show because many of the other artists' work were "softer and simpler genres". The curator also explained that she asked the other artists and none wanted their work displayed with mine and they were concerned that their guests would be offended having to view my male nude photography. That was last year. At this point, the only feeling I have about the whole situation is that my time was wasted.
Widewalls: After such an experience, where would you want the Bare Men series to go from here? Do you have any plans doing similar work, maybe simply continue the series?
The Bare Men series will go where I initially intended it to go -- solo exhibition (maybe with a digital element) and a limited edition, objet d'art photo book. I had a mockup printed of the book a few years ago and as I work with new men, select images are added to the current layout. I don't know if I will self-publish or pitch the project to publishers again.
However, once the book is published, I won't stop shooting. That's part one or chapter one. As the series grows, I know I'll have a new group of men for another book. I'll also continue to shoot for private clients. Having nude images of oneself published isn't for everyone but there are many who want nude art of themselves. Regardless of if they ever share it, the process is eye-opening and healing for men.
For more on Abigail Ekue, visit her website.