Saturday, February 24, 2018

In A Personal Light: Issac by Abigail Ekue

'Men are beautiful and lovely and vulnerable and in that there is art.'

Every artist has their own unique perspective and philosophy with capturing the subject in their focus. Some, see something aesthetically beautiful, and try to reproduce that beauty within a photo. Others, see a beauty beyond just the surface, a beauty they wish to reveal, celebrate and magnify with their work. Although I value both approaches, when it comes to capturing the male form, the latter is often more fascinating to explore, with more layers and chapters to the story.

As a photographer, Abigail Ekue holds a mirror up to her models, using her camera, passion and interest to assist those she's shooting to see their beauty within the images that she captures. Abigail is less interested in the 'big' moments and poses, instead, focusing on the beautiful nuances and emotions of everyday life. Abigail believes in evocative storytelling, promoting positive body images, sensuality, sexuality and gender through her nude art and erotic photography.

At first, shooting nudes was simply something to add to her skill set. Still learning photography, Abigail was shooting lots of editorial portraits, music and events and wanted to expand her portfolio. Although open to shooting both women and men, it was men, that she was able to find and shoot first. Before getting behind the camera, Abigail was herself an art model and understands the elements of empowerment and transformation elements nude modeling can sometimes generate. The response to her nude work with men was both positive and strong, motivating her to continue and dive deeper into the theme.

'My first experience shooting a nude model was pretty easy but also frustrating. I was shooting some images to be used by an artist for paintings. I also had the right to use the photos for my portfolio. But the model was not very comfortable and adamant about not having his face in the images so what we could shoot was limited and redundant. I already knew going in that sort of shoot wasn't what I wanted and it solidified that I would shoot and present men the way women are presented in nude photography - full-frontal, visible faces.'

The overwhelming focus on female nudity, and the often double standard between male and female nudes, was another catalyst for Abigail to shoot the male form, helping lead to her portrait series entitled 'Bare Men.' Abigail describes 'Bare Men' as an honest, sometimes playful, and vulnerable portrayal of the male nude body. Abigail wanted a series of natural, candid, voyeuristic images of men being themselves, sans clothing of course.

'The images share moments of joy, angst, self-care and self-love, playfulness, doubt and reflection through each man’s own filter of masculinity. Male nudity in art perpetuates the Greek god trope - bodies carved out of marble with minuscule, flaccid, non-threatening penises or penises not visible at all. That carried over into modern-day photography, where there is rarely full-frontal nudity - visible face and genitals. A faceless man, with the focus primarily on his penis was not my objective. Nudity and sex aren't the same thing and the penis is considered threatening or taboo because that connection is made erroneously.'

Unlike 'nude' or 'naked', the word bare feels more raw, signifying an exposure which goes beyond just the body and an outer layer of skin. Abigail says that over time, Bare Men has evolved into an outlet for me to work through body image issues and for many, to be finally seen. Many of the men expressed a desire to be objectified, and to be considered desirable ad beautiful, some, for the very first time.

'I stay away from studio shoots for this series so there's less production and more connection. I'm working to showcase men in a human, personal light. The images in Bare Men offer glimpses into their private moments; the men have offered me and by extension, the viewer a front-row seat to moments usually experienced alone or with intimate relations. As a result the viewer is privy to two relationships: the man and the photographer and the man and himself while in some instances is invited to join in.'

Because of the setting, and the atmosphere created, the level of intimacy, especially between the model and his own body, is often intense. Abigail doesn't shy away from capturing these private and natural moments of arousal and sexual expression. It is often through the models sexual expression that Abigail is able to go beyond just shooting a body and able to capture moments of joy, angst, playfulness, doubt, self-care, self-love and reflection. If any FH readers have the desire to experience being bare, Abigail is looking to find models in Montreal from March 2-4 and in Houston on April 27th-30th.

'I do like to know why a man wants to shoot with me more so for my Bare Men series than for private shoots since Bare Men images will be public. It's usually men wanting to add to the series and the movement of normalizing male nudes. Other men want to do something new and exciting. Another reason is for self-esteem or boosting body image. So even in cases of men who have never posed nude before they are willing to with me so I take that honor seriously.

I've been lucky to have never felt the need to cut a shoot short because of the way the man was behaving or treating me. I follow my gut so if I do get a bad feeling about someone or a situation, I'd leave. If a man was rude, behaving entitled, flirting with me or saying things that were inappropriate I would stop the shoot. While we're still setting up the shoot I let all clients know there is no physical contact between us during a shoot, so if they touch me, it's over.'

I was curious as how Abigail finds her models, whether she scouts on them out on-line or in person, or if they come to her. Initially she asked friends and acquaintances to pose, and also posted ads on Craiglist where she found some great men to work with. Abigail has also used Instagram to approach models, and now that she's gotten more of a reputation, many are contacting her directly through her site. Abigail says she has become quite savvy using Craigslist, and it was there she connected with Issac, the model I asked Abigail to feature.

'I loved his look in the photos he sent. He did NOT send nudes. We shot the day after Christmas. As you can tell from his tattoos he's zen; he had an extremely calm energy so working with him was easy. When we started the shoot, after I was done checking the lighting and setting up my camera I said I was ready, he leaned back on the couch and I began snapping. He was in the moment immediately, comfortable. We talked a lot during the shoot. I remember constantly checking in with him once we got to the roof because it was pretty chilly and windy that day but he was game, told me to keep shooting. Some of my favorite photos of him are in the moments I captured as he was responding to something I said. I just wish I remembered what I said to him... Issac was so at ease with me, with the situation, with himself.'

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