James M. Barrett explores vulnerability and emotion in this series of mesmerizing and beautiful portraits of men. We asked him a few questions to find out more about his work as a photographer.
Hello James! Tell us, when did you become a member of the GPN and what drew you to the organisation?
Two years ago. I heard it was friendly and welcoming, with interesting creative and talented members. It lived up to its reputation. On my first visit I got heaps of encouragement, and met several people who have become really important friends to me now.
Are there any particular subjects you are interested in and how do you explore them in your work?
I’m working on a huge series of portraits of men, exploring ideas of vulnerability, ageing, midlife crisis, and resilience. The style is “harsh beautiful” – exposing every pore and wrinkle, but I hope also capturing something beautiful and robust at the some time.
Where does your inspiration derive from? Are there any photographers or artists that have particularly influenced your work?
This series emerged when I was shooting physique photography. I worked with models who were astoundingly handsome – I expected them to be arrogant or difficult to direct, but instead discovered that they were often exceptionally vulnerable and uncertain of their desirability. I became curious about the underlying psychology of the experience, and the way we seek so much affirmation through our appearance.
I’m inspired by a wide range of remarkable artists including: Marlene Dumas, Rineke Dijkstra, Pieter Hugo, Lucian Freud.
Do you use any specific techniques when photographing? How would you describe your personal style?
Something very different from the airbrushed and manicured conventions of popular portrait photography. I spend up to 8 hours in post-production building up each image. People often read the the resulting portraits as “brutally honest”, “truthful”, and very revealing of the sitter, and in many ways they are, but they are also highly constructed and more artificial than the glossy images we criticise for being so “fake”.
Any plans for the future?
I’ve shot over 100 portraits in this series so far and I’m still restless to expand the collection! I’ve had a wonderful response, and now get regular commissions so it’s developing a momentum of its own. Although the overall project is the same, I track subtle changes in my approach over time, so the portraits are constantly evolving.
All images © James M Barrett
James’ work can be seen as part of ‘Gayzed‘, brought to The Strand Gallery by the Gay Photographers Network, from the 15th – 20th October.