Vincent Keith of MASCULAR Studio and Oliver Zeuke of Photomolekuel are pleased to announce the launch of A Portrait in Isolation, a project exploring emotional and physical space in lockdown.
At the end of March 2020, as the COVID-19 global pandemic grew in scope and impact, gay men around the world were asked to submit self portraits that reflected their experience of the coronavirus lock-down. As curators for the project, our objective was to have as broad and diverse a representation of this global experience as possible. Our hope was to share varied experiences across age, ethnicity, and culture.
The call for submissions had a few stipulations. In all photos, the subject needed to be seated, the photos needed to be in portrait format at a 5x7 aspect ratio, and we wanted to avoid mirror selfies. There is a great deal of scholarship on the "seated portrait," which we will not go into here, but for our purposes, the requirement had the effect of making the portrait a deliberate act. In that way, the photographer was more likely to consider the messaging and emotional content of the photograph, and how feelings of isolation and loneliness were impacting their lives during the pandemic. The aspect ratio and orientation were chosen for presentational purposes. As curators, we wanted to ensure that the images formed a collection and that changes in the physical dimensions and orientation would not detract from the collective message(s) contained within the collection.
By the end of April, we had received over 160 submissions from men ranging in age between 22 and 67 years old. From Tokyo to Phoenix, and Melbourne to Buenos Aires, we had submissions from 102 cities in 28 countries. The photographers themselves communicated a range of feelings and sensations through their photos. Some focused on the constraints of space, while others chose to present defiance and resilience in their images. Sex and sexuality are components of a number of submissions, but even in these works, there is a sense of resignation and vulnerability. The locations range from outdoor spaces to throughout the home, including, a number of images taken in bathrooms. The range of participants was wide, from professional photographers to those who just used their smartphones to take their picture. These frank portraits of what it’s like to live through the coronavirus crisis are both honest and revealing about how it has affected these subjects. The idea behind the collection was to show that gay men are affected by the crisis in a similar way to everyone else but more so. Living lives which are often fragmented between conventional work conditions and their private lives leaves many gay men without the traditional support mechanisms of heterosexuals and this shows through in the imagery.
While separated by geography, culture and age, the men in these images all share fears for the future, loneliness, job insecurity, and separation. A number of the works come from people who have had to work extra shifts in various sectors to make up for capacity requirements as a result of the pandemic. They dream of being at home and relaxing. The COVID-19 virus itself recedes and is, at best, background noise. It may be the underlying cause, but evidence of or for it is not there. Instead, this is a sense of dislocation and resignation.
MASCULAR is a London-based studio established by Vincent Keith that explores elements of gay and male identity through photography. Mascular Magazine is a quarterly e-zine that celebrates masculine art and the men who create it.Photomolekuel is a Düsseldorf-based photography studio owned and run by Oliver Zeuke. Zeuke’s work is centred around portraiture and intimacy amongst men.