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Matthew Morrocco
Kevin and BillPhotography Matthew Morrocco

Matthew Morrocco’s intimate portraits pay homage to the older gay community

The photographer shows that desire doesn’t have an age limit with his first book

In 2012, Jane Fonda gave a Ted Talk about “life’s third act” – the last three decades of life which she described, “age not as pathology, but as potential”. Artist Matthew Morrocco has explored “life’s third act,” in his first photography book, Complicit, published by MATTE editions. The images chronicle Morrocco’s time spent photographing himself with older, gay men in New York City from 2010 to 2015. Starting the project in his early 20s, it’s an amalgam that explores ageism within the already marginalised LGBTQ community. “It may have been photography that I meant to inspect but what I found was an essence of human connectivity that extends beyond just sex and lust,” he says. “I met men in their homes. We had tea, shed tears, shared orgasms, and intimate details.”

The pictures are intimate; making the viewer feel as if they are in the room during these encounters. The soft lighting and leisurely mannerisms are reminiscent of 19th-century French paintings. Reflecting on the first intimate rendezvous for Complicit, he says, “The first photo I made was of a 60-year-old man named Danny when I was living in the East Village. We met online and I decided that my housemate’s room made the best setting. I don’t really remember how I felt, I just remember that I wanted to take a picture of an older man with his hands in my pants. I thought it would be interesting.” Through these sexual encounters, he was able to learn more about queer history while questioning society’s inability to see people above a certain age as sexual beings who desire touch, affection, and companionship.

“Queer people use the internet as a tool and space for learning, growing, playing with their identities, and exploring new ideas” – Matthew Morrocco

Technology played a major role in the book, since Morrocco met all of his subjects online. In a discussion about how the internet has benefited the LGBTQ community, Morrocco remarks that, “Queer people use the internet as a tool and space for learning, growing, playing with their identities, and exploring new ideas – whether it’s for fashion, sex, changing politics, or just different kinds of intimacy.” He also sees technology as a tool in helping him communicate and understand who he is.

The political tide is turning right now in America for the LGBTQ community. Before the current administration came to office, there was substantial progress for LGBTQ rights. Now, the social equality of the community is at risk. There was a feeling that it was impossible to roll it back and now that that certainty is gone. The Trump-Pence administration is trying to eliminate marriage equality, limiting LGBTQ resources in schools, and hindering the community’s access to quality healthcare.

There is a revolution brewing to fight the administration on these critical issues, but to move forward, sometimes we must look back. Complicit does just this by focusing on the men that fought for milestones such as marriage equality with revolutionary events like the Stonewall Riots and the NYC Pride March. These are also the people that watched their friends and loved ones parish in the Aids epidemic; a shared history that is filled with trauma and anguish.

Morrocco was eager to learn about these men’s past and explore their history. Through these encounters, he had lengthy discussions about his subject’s previous relationships. “I remember a specific situation in which someone told me a story about a young lover who killed himself with cocaine,” he remembers. “That was particularly harrowing because the young lover was underage and Brazilian. The older man flew him to New York from Brazil after a chance encounter and they lived together.”

Intimacy between two or more people is not always comfortable. There’s the aspect of trauma histories, the suffering, and the stress from the past, which can place barriers between two people. In taking the photographs, Morrocco had to sensitively weave through the emotions and anguish to connect with these men. But there was a collective narrative that was present through the five years of making the book. He recognises that “People are just doing the best they can with what they have.”

In Jane Fonda’s Ted Talk she also said that “Perhaps, the third act is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves – creating the person we are supposed to be.” Intimacy and desires do not disappear once we hit a particular stage in life, humans are constantly evolving and advancing with age. In documenting his intimate encounters with older gay men, Complicit emphasises that even in life’s third act, there is an importance of connecting both physically and emotionally with one another. When Morrocco photographed himself in intimate settings with these men it explores the fact that ageing doesn’t equate fragility, instead, it stands for strength – wrinkles and grey hair represent resilience.

Complicit is available now