Men with Flowers

As a female photographer, I find it easier to make portraits of women - it's okay for a woman to appear defenseless because femininity is not associated with power. Making portraits of men has, at times, been more difficult for me. Many men guard themselves - unwilling to expose themselves in poses that may rob them of their masculinity. Culturally the media represents men in stereotypical roles; angry politicians, brutal police officers, murderers yielding guns, serial rapists, superhero athletes, attractive celebrities, and powerful CEOs. These men wear a mask – either as someone to be revered or as someone to be feared. Rare is the image of a man, sensitive and vulnerable - unless we look to photographs of male victims of disaster or poverty, both extreme situations that summon the viewer to feel pity.

Recently, I began the series, Men with Flowers using men I know as subjects to investigate the potential visual response when men pose unexpectedly, with flowers. Flowers are traditionally associated with femininity, and culturally men give them to women as expressions of admiration, love or possibly as a way to seek forgiveness. For the portrait session, I bring the man flowers that I specially select for him - the flowers signify meaning within my relationship with the man. They may also allude to something I wish for him. The flowers he holds - sometimes clumsily, rejecting them slightly, or gesturing them back to me as if he brought them for me is entirely up to the subject. I never intend to strip my subjects of their manhood. However, I do mean to portray these males in a different light, perhaps unguarded and human in a way that breaks with stereotypical images of men in the world.

The subject chooses whether to express his vulnerability or not. At times, the dynamic with my model is uncomfortable for me when I photograph men I revere because a power shift takes place with me behind the camera. At other times, I'm surprised by the exchange and how confidently a man can hold a bouquet without overtly projecting his masculinity. Ultimately, the goal for Men with Flowers is to subvert cliches of masculine imagery, and to question - why don't we allow men to be seen as sensitive humans in the world?

Polly Gaillard, August 2019