IN-PRESS

 
 

Consuming the Appearance

 
The appearance and image of hard bodies sells product be it aftershave, gym membership, clothes or magazines. Bodies are metaphorically consumed by individuals and socieites eager to grasp what they have to offer, the nirvana of the promised land: individuality, success, popularity and a wonderful 'lifestyle'. These images are not individual they are 'the same', to be consumed by every-body, but not everyone can attain nrivana. Below are three examples of the current genre of male body photography, all the bodies being of a similar homogenised type. Only the photographers are different, but they could easily have been the same.

 

Michael Childers. "Untitled." 1999
Jason Lee. "Untitled." 1997
Rob Lang. "Untitled." 1999

 

Michael Childers.
"Untitled."
Blue Magazine.
1999

 

 

Jason Lee.
"Untitled."
Blue Magazine.
1997

 

 

Rob Lang.
"Untitled."
Blue Magazine.
1999

 

 

Apparently, "Jason Lee's brooding male nudes plumb the shadowy depths of Mystery, Sensuality and Despair ... Figures possess an aura of subdued eroticism ... Faces and identities are almost inconsequential, the subject reduced to a study of line and texture" (Blue Magazine, April 1997). Lee says that he doesn't want to use clichés that tend to occur when photographing women and to establish an identity and style all of his own. Michael Childers images are, "Dynamic, sensual and glamorous," (Blue Magazine, February 1999) while Rob Lang's desert studies of the male nude, "Document his search for the man within ... and [are] essentially about unearthing an emotional bond." (Blue Magazine, February 1999).

Many more photographers with similar images of male bodies feature heavily in Blue Magazine, a glossy publication aimed at the gay 'lifestyle' demographic. As with any artist most of them would like to think that their works contain a revealing : of mystery, sensuality, and emotional bonds for example. Speaking as a photographer myself I believe that this type of imagery of the body (with it's apparent self-absorption and narcissism), isolates the body from communication with others and actually elides true communication with the photographer. The bodies are complete(d) in their own sensual gratification.
The construction of these images is formulaic, the body posed by different photographers to form a masturbatory landscape that appeals to a gay erotic consumerism. Contrary to what Jason Lee would like us to think there is little individual identity present; the identities of the models (and perhaps the photographers) is almost inconsequential, as the anonymity of the "Untitled" and headless images attests, the models faces cropped out or turned away from the camera allowing our gaze to caress their muscular bodies.

These images are used by advertisers, photographers, artists and media alike to sell product and fall into clichés that have developed in the photography of the male body over the last 50 years. Central to this hierarchy is the ability of advertisers to promote the lifestyle and body types of dominant groups as desirable, superior and worthy of emulation.

 

Anon. "Untitled." 1999
Anonymous.
"Untitled."
Yves Saint Laurent advertisement.
Blue Magazine.
1999

 

 

I suggest that images such as these are no longer just a passing fashion, but that they are here to stay and I believe that the problems associated with the idealisation of these male images, steroid abuse for example, can be compared to the eating disorders that women have succumbed to in their attempts to attain the waif-like supermodel look of many contemporary womens fashion models. Some social commentators (such as Chris Schilling below) have argued that the multiplicity of images available to the public [in consumer culture] open up new identities and new areas of becoming, deconstructing the hierarchy of what is seen as valuable in body image types.

 

Anonymous.
"Untitled."
2(x)ist underwear
advertisement.
Blue Magazine.
1999
Anon. "Untitled." 1999

 

Chris Schilling has observed that,

"The rapid internationalization and circulation of consumer and 'lifestyle' goods threatens the readability of those signs used by the dominant to signify their elite physical capital. These issues raise doubts about the continuing management and control by the dominant class of those fields in which physical capital is recognized and valorized. If fields become saturated with increasing body images and social practices which are presented as constituting valuable forms of physical capital, then their structure may change. Unless dominant sections of society are able to classify these styles into existing hierarchies, and have these classifications recognized as valid, then the logic of differences in which taste in cultural and consumer goods and lifestyle activities are held to be oppositionally structured is threatened. In contemporary consumer society, then, we may be witnessing processes which will make it extremely difficult for any one group to impose as hegemonic, as worthy of respect and deference across society, a single classificatory scheme of 'valuable bodies'."

I disagree with this argument.

 

Darren Tieste.
"Geoff."
Outrage Magazine.
1999
Darren Tieste. "Geoff." 1999

 

It is still all too easy for the dominant group within a subculture or society to impose and identify a 'valuable' body. This can be seen in any of the above images and the way they are used by all types of artists, media & advertisers to attract 'value' status. The body of the muscular mesomorph attracts a projected desire that media and advertisers rely on. It is still very difficult to put forward alternate body images that can be seen as fantasies, both desirable & 'valuable'. Since it would seem that most males would like to have a muscular mesomorphic body shape (see Thesis notes Mishkind et al) this body type does have social status. Covers of gay magazines such as Outrage (above) sell far more copies when they have an attractive, muscular smooth young man on the front of them. Here Outrage kills three birds with one stone.
Firstly, they have an attractive semi-naked cover model help sell the magazine. Secondly, there is an article on the play in which the model/actor is appearing (containing different photographs of the same ilk). Thirdly, the image is repeated inside the magazine with other models/actors in designer underwear as part of a photographic fashion feature.

This and other contemporary images of muscular male bodies are unlike the clone image of an earlier generation because the 'look' is now ageist, elitist and requires great sacrifices in order to come close to possessing the 'ideal'. Great value is put on appearance, youth, beauty, and lifestyle to the possible detriment of everything else.