Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Measuring Up by Alexander Chernenko
Most of the images I feature are images rooted in pride and strength. Men confident, as least in the visual image, in their appearance and the hard work which led to the results we see. Pride photographed by artists looking to capture and celebrate the male form, especially men that in their eyes represent the ideal of what the male look likes at it's best, and at it's peak.
One of my favorite films of the last few years was Steve McQueen's Shame. Not because of Michael Fassbender's frontals, as enjoyable as they were, but because of the depths that Shame can take us. Shame is a theme very few chroniclers of the male form go near, but when they do, they usually cut to an emotion within me quicker than most. Shame, no matter what we look like, is something we all have felt at one time or another. Some men and women have the ability to feel it, dismiss it and quickly move on. Maybe not completely forgetting, but able to put it in it's place.
Most of us however, deal with shame with much less ease and finesse. Sometimes the root of the shame is burrowed so deep within us, it manages to touch each every part of who we are. Sometimes, it cripples to the point of preventing us from really living, trapping us in a cycle of simple existence, one without the pleasures and emotions all of those around us seem to be feeling.
Shame can stem from both external and external places, and usually manifests itself somewhere safer to deal with. Some manifest their shame obsessing over a specific body part or a physical attribute they cannot seem to get over. The shame is usually not about the size of their nose, the shape of their ears, the size of their breasts or penis, but that becomes the thing which ends up owning most of the pain.
Measuring up is something many boys and men stress about from time to time, some certainly more than others. Joking about a man's penis length is common in mainstream media and it is not unusual to hear people still try to connect masculinity to the size of a man's member. If there is one thing I hate most the capturing of the male form, it is photographers, even ones I respect, who digitally morph a models penis into something that looks more like a weapon than part of the body. Even though we know that most of the penises we see displayed in images and porn are not the norm; even though research tells us most people prefer mid, to slightly smaller sizes on their partners; even though we know the size of any part of our bodies does not define who we are... when submerged in shame and our defences are down, and we often allow it to.
I have never really had shame about my body. I remember though when I was in high school I used to stress over having curly hair. I longed to have straight hair that I could just run a comb through. I had a girlfriend who used a straighter on it but that didn't really straighten out my hair, nor did it straighten me. It only had me looking like some 80's rock star which was more embarrassing than how my hair naturally looked. I do however have a lot of experience dealing with shame, shame I knew the source of but shame it still took years to be able to put in a place I was comfortable dealing with.
The problem with shame is where it can lead. Regardless of it's origin, in a painful experience or childhood trauma it's manifestation into a preoccupation with the size of your nose or the length of your penis can be all too real. Over time it wears on our soul, sadness, fear and depression are the most common results with suicide often seen as a more positive alternative than spending a lifetime of having to face the shame day after day...after day.
I first featured the work of Alexander Chernenko last New Year's Eve and was immediately taken then at the depth of emotion his images portray. Alexander works and lives in Belarus, and being being bordered with Russia may be in part, the reason shame is something so close to home and weaved throughout some of his work.
When Alexander first sent on the images, I was going to focus on the close-ups of the model's (also named Alexander) penis and the measuring tape, which seems to be squeezing tight, almost suffocating it. It was going to be light, even humorous. But very quickly it was not the models the penis that drew me. Emotionally, it was the images of the model's head down, his arms clutching his head, the images of him covering his eyes but no matter what he did, was unable to fully cover the shame.