Exploring Heterosexual Masculinity Through Black and White Portraits (NSFW)

All images by Liam Warton. Used with permission.

“Women are often over-sexualized under the notion of art.” says photographer Liam Warton about his views on portraiture. “Shot in strips of beautiful light and shade on grainy black and white film. Their bodies are consciously bent and curved, lead onto display to indulge a particular crowd.” Liam describes the way that many women are portrayed is being vulnerable, weak and naked. To him, they don’t really seem to own their own bodies. To that end, he compared it to the way that men are portrayed and their own stereotypes.

That’s all part of what Liam is trying to explore in his series.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Liam: I bought my first SLR camera four years ago when I was living in London at the Brick Lane markets for an upcoming trip to Ireland to meet my extended family for the first time. This trip really opened my eyes to photography and in particular the fun that shooting analog offered.

I didn’t really know what I was doing but I shot through a heap of film on the trip and when got back to London I immediately purchased more film to shoot. From there it really snowballed for me, I moved back home to Australia and I have been working since then on going pro with my photography. I feel that shooting analog is one of the best ways to learn the basics and learning how to read light, compared with starting off on digital where you can shoot the camera in full automatic mode.

Phoblographer: What made you get into portraiture?

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Liam: Like many I started by taking photos of everything however I soon got bored and I realized I needed a subject matter to engage with in order to create something meaningful to me. Also, I found out quickly that I wasn’t all that good at other forms of photography.

Phoblographer: So what motivated you to create this series?

Liam: I was motivated to create this series as I am a photographer who belongs to an industry where it is acceptable to exploit and oversexualize women in the name of art or for some form of cheap likes. I would rather not contribute to the male gaze and strengthen the already engrained stereotypes but rather portray both men and women equally. On the other side of the spectrum men are portrayed to be strong, muscular protectors and if they don’t fit this mold then they are labelled at homosexual or pussies. As a heterosexual male who does not strongly relate to this outdated masculine stereotype I find this particularly troubling. Therefore, I decided to flip the scales and place myself as the model in the same vulnerable, weak, contorted sex positions which women are continuously subjected to.

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In short I want to launch an alternative discourse by highlighting the absurdities in the current structures.

Phoblographer: Why do you think that much of female portraiture is “soft porn?” I’ve often had this same thought, and on the other side of the gender table, I’ve had women genuinely say to me “what if the women consents or wants to be portrayed in that way?”

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Liam: The reason why much of female portraiture is soft porn is a construction of the male gaze. Traditionally photography has been through the gaze of the male (control of the camera), meanwhile the object has been the female, with the assumption of heterosexual men as the target audience. The soft porn or hypersexualisation of women within photography results with women deriving their self worth only from their physical attractiveness (with the exclusion of other characteristics) and therefore an object for others’ sexual use, rather than person with the capacity of independent thought. With the perpetuation of degrading images today, this undermines womens’ social and political power.

In stark contrast the female gaze (women in control of the camera) gives women the opportunity to no longer be suppressed and take control of their actions. Therefore, if women decide to own their sexuality and take sexualised images then of course they should be able to.

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Phoblographer: So what do you actually think about the images that you’ve created and how the man is being portrayed?

Liam: Well first off the images are of me and I do not usually like to be photographed. However, I am proud of these images as I believe they accurately portray the message I want to communicate.

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Phoblographer: Why black and white? Does this series not work in color?

Liam: I intentionally shot the series in black and white to reference the fine art photography purists who produce the same repetitive and boring nude images of women on black and white film using analog cameras. For this reason, I believe the series is stronger in black and white however the message would still be apparent if I used colour negative film.

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