The Barbican arts centre here in London has reopened with virus safety measures in place. The exhibition that was showing in the art gallery before the Lockdown – Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography – is back on show and some of the activities to promote it have also been rekindled.
One of these was a community workshop by photographic artist Daniel Regan exploring issues around Masculinity. I joined a group from Headway East London, the charity supporting people affected by brain injury, where I’ve been a member for 7 years.
In the first stage of the workshop, Daniel Regan asks us to select an item, or items, that say something about Masculinity to us: “an item of clothing you often (or used to) wear; an object related to your current or past relationships? Perhaps it’s a part of your body…”
I chose some tools we keep in the bottom drawer in our kitchen.
Next he asks us to consider the meaning of the items and their place in our lives: “Has its meaning changed over time? Where do you keep it? Is it on display or hidden away?”
This is all building up to our main task: photographing the object(s) in a way that tells a story about masculinity. He urges us to experiment with style and setting: “Try different locations, backgrounds and types of light…”
I shot a picture of my tools (a pair of pliers, a screwdriver set and a roll of gaffa tape) from above, placed on a copy of a Guardian magazine, in afternoon daylight using a mobile phone. In a second image, I added a TV remote control and my “distance” glasses, for humour.
Finally, the killer question Daniel Regan asks of us is: “What does your photo say about you and your relationship to masculinity?”
The short answer is I have no idea. I could try to construct some amateur psychoanalysis about putting male “doing” things (the tools) alongside female “thinking” things (the Guardian, the glasses), but that would be foolish, though during the workshop I did coin the phrase “Disrupting The Stereotype”, which is a cheeky play on one of the Barbican exhibition’s sections, “Disrupting The Archetype”. But in reality, I just enjoyed playing with the colours, shapes, patterns and textures. Is that masculine enough?
The task did make me feel obliged to SAY something, which I found slightly uncomfortable. But overall the experience was fascinating. I think I might have started to work out my own relationship with “masculinity”, and even probably uncovered a minor irritation with always being the one who is expected to use those tools.