Our first issue of 2020 is devoted to the Barbican’s forthcoming show on how masculinity is coded, performed, and socially constructed
“I’ve waited a long time to bring this book out and between Donald Trump and #MeToo, I don’t see how it could possibly be a better moment,” says Andrew Moisey from his office at Cornell University, New York, where he is an assistant professor in art history and visual studies. The book, The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual, is published by Daylight, and is looks at the secretive, ultra-masculine worlds of the fraternity houses that dominate US university life.
The image we now have of fraternities is very different from how they were when they first set up in the late 1700s. The initial male collegiate organisations were literary societies, where university students gathered to debate politics. Many had mottoes and names in Greek lettering, such as the first and perhaps more poignant Phi Beta Kappa in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Over the years these gave way to social societies in more universities around the US, recruiting members according to their race, religion and social status. Their exclusivity, need to differentiate and tradition of privacy were traits that gradually reached extremes in the modern day, and have now earned them a reputation of encouraging misogyny, bullying and elitism.
Diversity has never been hotter in the fashion industry. This year, more non-white, plus-sized, and transgender models have walked the runway than ever before, and a record number of black women have appeared on the covers of glossies worldwide. Alessia Glaviano, senior picture editor at Vogue Italia and director of the Photo Vogue Festival thinks we owe it to the internet. “I believe that nothing would have happened, or not this fast, in terms of inclusivity, if it wasn’t for social media,” she says. “It’s a progressive platform for talking about race, identity, sexuality, and disability.”
But diversity isn’t just a trend, it’s a reality. Years before #diversity began to take off, forward-thinking publications such as Vogue Italia were already poking holes in the industry’s representation problem, with initiatives such as the July 2008 “all black” issue. Vogue Italia is known for being adventurous, for setting a standard for cutting-edge fashion photography. Over the years has given artistic freedom to commissioned photographers such as Steve Meisel, Ellen von Unwerth and Miles Aldridge, who have shot stories unlikely to be seen elsewhere, engaging with themes such as plastic surgery and domestic violence.
“It’s been in our DNA since the beginning,” says Glaviano. “We’ve always been really engaged and committed to this part of fashion that can be very strong and influential.
“I’ve never believed in boundaries and labelling things,” she adds. “No one cares that Michelangelo was commissioned to create the Sistine Chapel. What they care about is the final result.”
“What’s more American, iconic, and masculine than a cowboy?” asks Kristine Potter. “There is so much control within the military, so I wanted to pivot to a more lawless, unpredictable form of masculinity”.
Coming from a long line of military men on both sides of her family, Potter has long been interested in broadening the spectrum of permissible masculinity. After completing The Gray Line, a project that looks at young male cadets, she started to think about forms of masculinity other than that familiar from her youth.
“By now,” writes Gert Jonkers in parentheses, “Thom Browne and I have worked our way through a bottle of champagne at the exclusive Soho House, and we’ve cabbed to Il Cantinori, a swanky restaurant in the East Village, where we’re at a table in less than no time – even though the place is packed.” “Wow. I feel like we’re on a date,” says Browne, who had agreed to be interviewed for the first time for a new menswear magazine launched in 2005, titled Fantastic Man. As reported by Jonkers, the co-founder of the magazine, they had just discussed Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, the importance of a snugly tailored suit, of how one should wear trousers. Their exchanges were, in some respects, the kind of thing you might read in any fashion magazine. Yet this moment, an editor and revered designer slightly tipsy in the close confines of a restaurant, captures the singular achievement of Fantastic Man – a revealing, casual and glamorous confidence that allowed an independent magazine published by two unknown designers …
Each January, London Art Fair dedicates exhibition space to photography, inviting a curator to select 50 images along one common idea. The 2016 edition of Photo50 at LAF (which runs at Business Design Centre, 20-24 January) is curated by BJP contributor Federica Chiocchetti, whose theme is ‘Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex’. She explains her interest in curating an exhibition that grapples with the mysterious dynamics that operate between men and women. – BJP “It is absurd to divide humanity into men and women. It is composed only of femininity and masculinity.” Valentine de Saint Point ‘Manifesto of the Futurist Woman in response to F. T. Marinetti’, 1912 “In the end every definition of male and female is personal, and it’s that idiosyncrasy we value, need and hope to encourage. Who do we think we are? A work in progress ♂♀”. Vince Aletti, ‘Male Female’, 1999 ‘Feminine Masculine’ presents an unfinished and personal exploration of the dynamics between the opposite sexes. This mysterious topic, at times ineffable and immaterial, often seems …
Last year, 4,623 men took their own lives in Britain. That works out to more than 12 deaths a day, and accounts for 76% of the total suicides in the UK in 2014. In fact, suicide is the biggest killer for men under 45 in the UK. These statistics, compiled by mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) are shocking in their clarity and sadly unsurprising in what can be learned from them. The predominant model of the alpha male; strong, stoic and unfeeling, still persists in popular culture and reinforces a concept of masculinity that is pervasive and insidious – one that doesn’t allow for anxiety, vulnerability or dialogue. In aid of CALM, five London-based photographers – Scarlet Page, Helena Berg, Jennifer Pattison, Will Morgan and Peter Guenzel – have put on ‘Alpha’ an exhibition that responds to masculinity and mental health. Each photographer interpreted a particular aspect of depression or the male emotional experience to create a complex body of work that begins a much-needed discussion. Jennifer Pattison focused on …