Harry Freeguard and Christian Denbigh channel their dark humour through the lens for a fun series
Slowly but surely we are chipping away at the rules and regulations of what defines ‘gender’. Offering an alternative to the humdrum world of masculinity, collaborative photographers Harry Freeguard and Christian Denbigh are two people who are doing just this. Championing a radical approach, the duo aims to normalise the blurring of pre-conceived gender normalities. Comparing their work to that of well-known male-focused magazines where ideal emerge as ripped, (fake) tanned and oiled up bodies, Freeguard and Denbigh focus on the underdogs – the ones we pass every day, or catch a glimpse of on Grindr, while placing them in outlandish settings.
Gone are blue jeans and slicked-back hair in favour for neon pink G-strings and floral dresses to challenge their viewers into accepting what we have been told is wrong for so long. Playful in nature and laced with a dark sense of humour, their photographs subvert the stuffy images we’re bombarded with every day. Refreshing and honest, the duo are a setting a standard for photographers to delve deeper into how masculinity can be challenged outside of “boys holding fucking rugby balls or something.”
Below, we speak to the duo to unearth what masculinity means to them and how they’re aiming to change the way we look at the macho-bravado stigma of conforming to being a ‘man’.
“Masculinity is so boring!” – Harry Freeguard
What I see with your images is this whole taking the piss out of masculinity and casting a light on how masculine men are so afraid of being a bit in touch with their feminine side. Do you think that’s a problem in society – masculinity being so vapid?
Harry Freeguard: Oh, it’s so fucking fragile and vapid and so rigid.
Christian Denbigh: (Laughs) I just remember that guy we shot in the field. We were looking for a naked man to photograph on Grindr, but we couldn’t find anyone, so we looked on escort sites to find the most masculine guy. I’d message them and be like ‘hey we’d love you for this shoot’ and one guy messaged back…
Harry Freeguard: And the reply was from his boyfriend and we were like, “I’m sending you this message because he’s so masculine he can’t even read or write. He’s got hands like shovels, he can’t text.” I think his name was DonkyDad… he just had to lay his masculinity on thick.
Christian Denbigh: Are you that masculine you can’t read or write?
Harry Freeguard: (Laughs). We want to entertain ourselves, to be honest. I don’t want to do anything that I find boring. While not perhaps obvious, what we do is very British, actually. It’s not just funny as in slapstick or goofy, there’s definitely a dodgy sense of humour in there – it’s quite dark a lot of the time. A lot of it is also just inside jokes between us that come out in the work.
You use models that you know, which I feel has something inherently intimate about it – not romantically, but in a relaxed, friendly way.
Harry Freeguard: It’s so much more relaxed! We’ve done shoots before with proper models we don’t know, but it’s just so fucking awkward. Those pictures didn’t end up anywhere.
Christian Denbigh: Yeah, and especially with what we do, because it’s very ‘inside humour’ and you have to be comfortable enough to be able to tell the boys to give themselves a wedgie or something. They have to be able to understand us and our humour.
Harry Freeguard: We’ve had a model leave a shoot before who we didn’t know that well. He just felt so awkward and had to leave.
I strongly believe this comes down to straight men being so afraid of femininity in order to exert their power.
Harry Freeguard: Yes, definitely. But we’re aiming to expand on what masculinity is by critiquing it throughout our work by parodying and taking the piss. Like, I’m sat here with a dress and make-up on… masculinity isn’t just about the stereotypes.
That’s a really important aspect of your work. It’s like a new masculinity saying that guys can just fuck about and be playful, and that’s okay.
Harry Freeguard: Masculinity is so boring!
Christian Denbigh: I also think it has a lot to do with the casting. We don’t use models, we use real guys.
Harry Freeguard: That idea of taking photos of not the Adonis-type, but rather the guy that you could see walking down the street is something we think is important.
Gay images are almost always polished, muscly and over-sexualised – it’s rarely ever a varied notion of beauty standards.
Harry Freeguard: And it’s a story that goes beyond the image as well. Those glossy magazines like Attitude or whatever, they’re all about the hunky guy. There’s more to being gay than that.
Christian Denbigh: I don’t know if our images are actually necessarily ‘gay’. None of the boys we shoot are gay, we just dress them up in feminine clothes.
That’s a very good point, actually.
Harry Freeguard: But these guys love it! They don’t get these opportunities in their regular day-to-day. They probably all lead this very male-presenting, masculine life, but then they put on a dress and love it.
Christian Denbigh: They fucking love a dress and they won’t take it off.
Harry Freeguard: Yeah and even the tiny, frilly panties, which are so unexpected. I do most of the styling for the images and I’m always a bit afraid to ask them to put on, like, a neon pink thong, for example, but they’re so eager to wear it and they won’t take it off – they just never get the chance to do it, otherwise.
What kind of stuff would you guys like to approach or experiment with in the future?
Christian Denbigh: I’d love to do commercial stuff, but still fun.
Harry Freeguard: Yeah, I feel like our stuff can be applied to commercial stuff really well. We could tone it down… (Laughs)
Lastly, why do you intend to keep the humour alive in your work?
Harry Freeguard: Because everything else is so boring! No one is having fun, nothing’s funny, nothing’s colourful.
Christian Denbigh: So dull.