"I feel that the term 'male gaze' has become dated," Joseph Barrett explains over email. "The original term proposes the idea of heterosexual man looking at heterosexual woman, but in the series I am a heterosexual man looking at other men," he continues.
Coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in her influential essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, the "world ordered by sexual imbalance" that she describes is still recognisable over three decades on, but there have been notable shifts. In 1975, Mulvey noted that "pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female." In 2017, while the patriarchy problem persists, both the pleasure in looking and gender norms are far more blurred and fluid. Just last year and for the first time in i-D's 36-year history, we celebrated the power of the female gaze, working with female photographers only from front to back, from Inez van Lamsweerde to Harley Weir, Letty Schmiterlow, Collier Schorr, Venetia Scott, Zoë Ghertner, Cass Bird, Petra Collins, Brianna Capozzi and more. For London-based Barrett, with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, his latest portrait series attempts to redefine the male gaze for today's post-binary world.
In the winter of 2016, Goodhood's in-house photographer began photographing a few of his close male friends and the series started as a casual documentation piece. "As the process went on, I realised that it was actually bringing up important questions of what it means to be a young male in our modern society." In the months that followed, these photographs developed into the personal photo series, Male Gaze.
"I chose Male Gaze for the title, in a satirical and light-hearted manner." It was a reaction to a personal distaste to what he felt was a heavily gender influenced industry. "It has always been very binary towards issues regarding sex and gender. It is still stuck in its out-dated attitude and needs to adjust itself to suit the current societal standards." While attempting to shift the discourse of image beyond gender and sexual orientation, Barrett's series plays with the idea of a postmodern masculinity.
"The depiction of male models in fashion photography is currently behind the times of our society," he explains. "Modern masculinity no longer just means chiselled bodies and strong jaw lines." Any lingering hegemonic macho bravado is stripped away as we discover Barrett's spectrum of man. As we follow his lens, viewers discover an intimacy, sensitivity and vulnerability that is rarely documented. "I hope people walk away with a broader sense of what it means to be male, and a more open-minded view on beauty in general."
Text Steve Salter
Photography Joseph Barrett