Notes from the Arts + Crafts Research Studio of Andrew Cornell Robinson
Photographs by Michael Meads
Michael Meads focuses his lens upon his own social circles,
dominated by unembellished masculinity. In earlier bodies of work, Meads captured our attention with the casual implication of homoeroticism placed in contrast to the loaded images of young men from Alabama toting guns, drinking beer, and posing proudly before a Confederate flag.
Meads, who trained as a painter, initially used photography as way of creating visual resources for reference in the studio. Lucky for us his sense of painting history and composition is carried over into these collections of photos which stand on there own as works of art.
The image of young men in provocative poses is nothing new; from Caravaggio to Jean Genet this genre is rich with history and relevance. Especially in relationship to the commoditization of the male body in contrast to southern Bible belt culture. And in this context the images from Meads’ most recent exhibition are indeed transgressive in that they uplift the posturing of hyper masculinity and reveal uncertain ground by capturing an ambiguous promise of violence or tenderness without relying upon the impossible unblemished male representation so prevalent in the mass media. For example one photograph titled “Love and Peace” depicting two young men; one leaning back into the other, initially has a sweet sentimentality about it and yet the facial expressions of the two men could be misleading, one is not sure if these men are lovers or rough housing cronies, if there smirk is a knowing wink toward a casual sexual encounter or if there is some baited deception below the surface. The same can be said for the image “Mardi Gras Reveler” depicting a man strewn with beads, hidden by a mask ready to reveal him self? Other images are more apparent in what they show about the model’s proclivities, such as “Ryan with Clamps II” depicting a young man with several binder clips over his nipples while rosary beads hang loosely over his bare skin and he cringes in pain or pleasure.
Meads men are human to a fault. Like the rough trade cast of characters in Jean Genet’s “The Thief’s Journal” each man presents an outward appearance often of intimidating bravado and attraction while privately revealing their intimacies in a whisper or a howl. Like Nan Goldin, Meads photographs contain a sense of empathy and trust between the photographer and model while placing the viewer into the awkward position of
Perhaps Meads own words illustrate his admiration and fascination with the nature of masculinity represented in his art. A masculinity which is neither gay nor straight but entirely queer.
“They were like brothers, not lovers, and
the ease with which they found
being in each other’s company was fascinating
if not aggravating. Perhaps
their bond was best illustrated when Justin
asked Allen to brand him using a
blowtorch and a wire coat hanger shaped
into a “J”.”
– Michael Meads