With Steve Grand's recent comments victimizing himself for being a white, pretty young thing to our newest favorite protagonist Steven in Tough Love displaying extreme neurosis around "the sexiest man [he's] ever seen outside of Tumblr," gay men are continuing to construct the wide range of emotions regarding issues of identity, particularly ideas of body image.
My latest artwork explores this spectrum of identity with a photography series titled Online Hookup Photo Booth Pic (Get Out Of My Selfie, Bro!). The series is a complex mash-up of seemingly simple signifiers.
Taking root in the medium of self-portrait photography, two bodies compete for space within the narrow confines of the photograph's frame. On one side, an anonymous, muscular, white male reveals only his bare torso for an online hookup app selfie. On the other side, I take a party photo booth pic dressed to the nines with silly props.
Each photo is titled after a popular dance song commonly heard at parties. Here, the focus of attention alternates between the two subjects against a shimmering gold background, creating a kind of visual illusion that addresses issues of celebration, body image, sexuality, race, and representation.
I think I'm at a moment in my life right now that a lot of gay men can relate to - my friends are getting married and having babies left and right, and here I am browsing Grindr and Tinder and I can't even get a text back. I have a hard time finding the confidence to post a selfie of myself in the style of a torso pic because I don't have that body, so my alternative is to completely cover up and wear a suit that suggests a happy and confident person socializing at a party. I never know how to properly reconcile these disparate feelings so my artwork often shows the two sides I'm struggling with, mashed up into one image.
When I asked my friend, actor/model A.J. Kirsch to perform the complimentary character to me in this photo series, he was all about it.
The process of the photo shoot consisted of a lot of quick improvisation that mimicked the quick and repetitive process of taking an actual selfie in the bathroom or a photo booth photo at a wedding. At one point during the photo shoot, A.J. jokingly yelled, "get out of my selfie, bro!" Interestingly enough, I was thinking the same thing at the same time, which really solidified the inherent narcissism of self-portraits while also addressing this kind of competitive attitude we experience on dating apps, always trying to look better than the dude in the next box, or even trying to look better than the way we actually see ourselves.
While the final images look so simple, I believe there are a lot of issues that are being addressed under the surface of it all. I think each image is an opportunity to sit with something very familiar, and if we choose to look at it as a work of art, then we can begin to think about issues of representation, especially ideas of beauty and race.
Who gets to be naked? Who has to cover up? Where do I fit in on that spectrum and am I allowed to disrupt - and ultimately change - this reality?
To see the other photos in the series, and to see more artwork, visit www.songco.org.