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Photography Davey Adesida

Nine unsigned photographers reimagine masculinity through their lens

We tasked upcoming names from the Thursday’s Child collective to photograph what masculinity means to them in 2019

Welcome to Behind The Masc: Rethinking Masculinity, a campaign dedicated to exploring what ‘masculinity’ means in 2019. With photo stories shot in Tokyo, India, New York, and London and in-depth features exploring mental health, older bodybuilders, and myths around masculinity – we present all the ways people around the world are redefining traditional tropes.

What does ‘masculinity’ mean? What does it mean to be masculine? To act masculine? What does it feel like? What does it look like? Especially now, we’re in a moment in history where gender and how we express it is in an ever-evolving state of flux. More than ever, as a society we are identifying as non-binary, as gender fluid, as gender queer. In the UK, research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found that 1,025 students in British higher education do not label themselves as male or female – up from 480 the previous year. We are no longer measuring ourselves against the old traditional (and rigid) notions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. We are defining and defying gender for ourselves. Expressing it how we want. 

For too long, masculinity has often stood for a kind of rigid set of rules – dictating everything from behaviour to appearance and punishing those who don’t conform. But masculinity is not rigid or staid. It shouldn’t be repressive or constrictive but open and joyful and expansive – encompassing a whole range of experiences, expressions and aesthetics. 

To start trying to answer the question of what masculinity means to us in 2019, we asked nine young photographers to contribute work that represented, to them, the masculine. The photographers were chosen from the diverse pool of Thursday’s Child – a global platform spotlighting and championing emerging, unsigned talent from all around the world. Once discovered, these young photographers and filmmakers and supported and nurtured by the team, becoming part of an ever-growing community of a new generation of fresh and exciting image-makers. Here’s what they came up with. 


What does masculinity mean to you? 

Cary Fagan: Masculinity to me isn’t something you are necessarily born with but an expression you learn as you grow. Growing up, I was told not to be vulnerable; not to cry not to show my feelings – just to be masculine and be a man, be tough. I’m at place where I’m learning what it means to be vulnerable and balancing masculinity with femininity. From what I wear to how I view my relationships. My biggest expression is in clothing. I wear a lot of jewellery and pearls. I simply think it’s all beautiful.

What’s the future of masculinity? 

Cary Fagan: The future is now. We should recognise masculinity as a fluid form of expression. We are at a space in time where we have the opportunity to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable, you don’t really worry about anything around you – that’s  one of the best feelings. I think there needs to be more conversation about spaces to feel vulnerable. When I’m on set, everyone should feel comfortable with who they are and the space they are in. It changes the whole experience and their emotion is expressed naturally in a photograph. It’s beautiful to see someone come alive when they are on a photo set.


What does masculinity mean to you? 

Antoine Jonquière: Something strong but also fragile - Something delicate and new; something that has to be redefined.

What’s the future of masculinity?

Antoine Jonquière: To fully break away from stereotypes and clichés. 


What does masculinity mean to me?

Davey Adesida: To me it means being your true self, honest instead of putting up a front. I find it amazing if you can be just yourself in any given circumstance. These traits are rare. 

What’s the future of masculinity?

Davey Adesida: I think in time we will all be comfortable with being ourselves.


What does masculinity mean to you? 

Lihi Brosh: Today there are no such patterns, masculinity as feminine, are a choice of each person to define or not himself.

What’s the future of masculinity? 

Lihi Brosh: The future of masculinity, like femininity, that can be discussed without gender, means that a woman can experience herself masculine or identify male parts within her, regardless of her sexual orientation. The future is that these definitions will have broader implications beyond categorisation.


What does masculinity mean to you?

Lumia Nocito: There is, of course, an endless amount of definitions for masculinity – the societal norm of masculinity varies throughout cultures, age, and time. I believe that our society’s definition of masculinity is attributed to power, suppressed emotions, and mental strength. To me, masculinity is performative. In reflecting upon the ways that I am perceived as masculine, my bluntness in conversation, and especially my persistence to get what I want in a business context, is something that myself and others attribute to masculinity. 

What’s the future of masculinity?

Lumia Nocito: Traditional notions of masculinity are being broken through the work of my generation – especially within the worlds of art and fashion. Although the art world has questioned norms of masculinity for decades, the content birthed by the fashion industry is more accessible to society – and the question of masculinity is becoming significantly more prominent in present-day fashion. One facet of traditional masculinity can be attributed to the way that boys are raised – to be aggressive, emotionally stagnant, and powerful. Young boys are shunned from engaging with stereotypically ‘girly’ or ‘femme’ symbols such as liking the colour pink, playing dress-up, or playing with dolls. Within the fashion world (and given it's widespread influence, within society) these symbols are beginning to loosen their direct ties to masculinity and femininity – it is no longer so black-and-white.

Today, an image of someone who identifies as male who is wearing, for example, a dress – a symbol traditionally attributed to femininity – is not the most shocking image to see. The future of masculinity is to break traditional ideas of what it means to be a ‘man’, and for masculinity to lose it's attributions that are traditionally also associated with being male. This break in traditional masculinity inherently allows for a break in traditional femininity – at some point, the two terms will lose their meaning. For example, it will allow for a woman to live in a world where her efforts to get what she wants are expected.


What does masculinity mean to you?  

Maria Quigley: Macho, stoic, strong, protective, proud, fearless, red-blooded, vigorous, virile, stable. These are ideas that come to mind when tackled with this question, though they are contingent, based on my experience of what is at root a social construct. Masculinity is in the eye of the beholder.

What’s the future of masculinity? 

Maria Quigley: I imagine it will become a lifestyle choice, a collection of attitudes to adopt, a style, a look. Just as someone can now be a punk or a city suit, each of which comes with a dress code and set of mannerisms but no one beliefs that these are inherent to the persons nature.


What does masculinity mean to you?

Nana Yaw Oduro: Characteristics of human that are attributed to the male specie, is what I call masculinity. Personally I think it is a social conditioning characterised by all those human traits that are often regarded familiar with the male specie. Toughness among others. Some of which may not be ideal for certain situations. Logically to me, a woman may bear this as well as a man. But it is in most cases exclusively attributed to the men which I think is debatably wrong. 

What’s the future of masculinity? 

Nana Yaw Oduro: I think the future of masculinity promises fragility and acceptance. A deconstruct which I believe is already taking place, talking of acceptance and fragility. Most people nowadays aren’t subscribing to the characteristics of masculinity, even men. People believe they could be who ever they want to be and not what and how they have to be or expected to be, based on their gender.

The challenging of what is supposed to be traditional traits  will hopefully in the near future cause the deconstruction of the ‘manly’ concept, masculinity. People will behave more like they want to behave. 


What does masculinity mean to you?

Nwaka Okparaeke: Masculinity is a quality that we all have no mater the gender. I believe its something to be embraced at its different levels and in which ever way feels natural. It’s never something to be forced. 

What’s the future of masculinity? 

Nwaka Okparaeke: The conversation is forever growing so I believe our perception on it is broadening, which is allowing more people to feel comfortable with their masculine energy decimate how much or how little it may be. 


“I think masculinity is what one shapes it to be, I believe it’s constantly evolving along with our process of life. So one always peels its own identity shaping that masculinity to its best self. As for the future of it, I hope we all keep evolving to our best self.”

Read more from Behind The Masc: Rethinking Masculinity here.

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