“My wife? It’s my second wife. I met her on the train, at Euston... Erm nothing’s gone wrong actually, I just like difference.” So says one of the subjects in Natasha Caruana’s cheeky, thought-provoking project, Married Men.
Caruana went on dates with 80 married men over the course of two years, grabbing clandestine photographs of them with a disposable camera and recording their parting shots with a Dictaphone hidden in her purse. On one level a typology of adulterers, it’s also a complex investigation into the boundaries of trust, deception and betrayal.
“The whole thing is ethically questionable – I’m taking pictures of a private moment, but then they’re putting themselves online [to find a mistress], and they’re cheating on their domestic lives,” says Caruana. “But what happens when I put the images on a gallery wall or in a book? That’s when the audience starts to question the morality of the whole thing, and that’s where it becomes interesting.
“So much depends on what your assumptions are, and what your experiences of affairs are, but I thought a lot about the ethics of it,” she continues. “I bumped into one of the guys a few months after our date, sitting a couple of rows ahead of me in the theatre with his wife. I had to leave. I couldn’t take it at all.”
Caruana found the men via three websites that put men in touch with prospective lovers in return for a fee. After chatting with them online for a while she’d arrange to go for coffee or a meal, spending an hour or so in their company. At some point she’d fake a reason to take a photograph, remarking on the beautiful flower arrangement or cake, then deliberately include them in the frame.
She kept their identities a secret, avoiding photographing their faces and keeping the voice recordings muffled but, even so, it’s the details that fascinate. There are bad-taste jumpers, sad bunches of flowers, missing wedding rings, bills paid with cash and ever-present mobile phones, all in the seemingly banal environment of London cafés and restaurants.
The project stems from a much earlier series on The other woman, in which Caruana helped women take portraits and tell the stories of their affairs. She was interested to hear their voices because the bunny-boiling mistress is such a stereotype, she says, in a way that “the other man” is not.
Married Men sees her looking at the other side of the equation, but she has retained her objective sense of detachment. “Some of them were like ‘Yay, let’s have a bit’, but I couldn’t believe how many of them just needed someone to talk to,” she says. “They couldn’t talk to their wives and they couldn’t talk to their male friends either, because how do you sit down over a pint and say ‘Things are really bad at home’? I become just an ear over a coffee, or a kind of marriage counsellor.”
Caruana, who graduated from the Royal College of Art MA in 2008, teaches in St Martins and at the University for Creative Arts in Farnham, and continues to develop her practice. Her latest project is a female detective agency that specialises in matrimonial cases.
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