The male photography of Joseph Barrett

It’s all about male faces and the great variety of masculinities — there will be six pictures —  as explored by photographer Joseph Barrett (who I was first alerted to by a 7/24 Pinterest posting).

JB’s incredibly chaotic description of what he’s about, untouched by my hand (but with some elucidating comments of mine), from his website:

Joseph Barrett Photography: See more ideas about barrett joseph pennsylvania impressionist [a completely different artist from this Joseph Barrett]. Changing the masculine portrait. Finding the essence of man in portraiture [and Redefining the male gaze]

Joseph barrett photography. Freelance photographer at self employed photography freelance photographer at self employed photography norwich university of the arts. [Norwich University of the Arts, a public university in Norwich, Norfolk, UK] Traditional notions of masculinity have been thrown out of the window. In this interview he talks about breaking preconceived notions of masculinity in the context of the gender spectrum. … [barrett:] i think it is necessary for people to see photographs without implications of gender and sexual orientation for new masculinity

Sometimes I just want to grab artists by the throat and shake them. But you can extract some useful stuff from all of this. And the photos are genuinely thought-provoking.

Most normal people would have an about section on their websites; even I have one, on my WordPress blog. All we get in the way of information about this artist as a person is that he’s in some way connected to the Norwich University of the Arts. I have no idea how old he is, where he grew up (is he British?), where he learned his craft, where he exhibits his work (if he does). And I can find no other source of information about him.

We can, however, see the outlines of his program for his photography as the vehicle for seeing photographs “without implications of gender and sexual orientation”, to represent “new masculinity”. But there’s a lot to work out there.

Meanwhile, it’s easy to extract information about the other, irrelevant, Joseph Barrett, who’s a painter, not a photographer. From the Jim’s of Lambertville [NJ] site:

Joseph Barrett was born in Midland, North Carolina, in 1936 and studied at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Barrett has been painting his entire adult life. His favorite subjects include the landscape surrounding New Hope, PA and many local landmarks often encompassing figures into his compositions. Barrett utilizes a heavy impasto and his palette bears similarities to that of Fern Coppedge and George Sotter. Barrett’s paintings are always found in unique and somewhat charming handmade frames designed by the artist and finished in metal leaf.

A living contemporary of the no longer living “New Hope School” impressionist painters, Joseph Barrett currently resides just outside of New Hope.

The faces. These are all of anatomically (and presumably genetically) male persons, but presenting themselves in ways that are all over the map, including one young man who might easily be taken to be female (and might wish to be taken that way) and one who presents as conventionally male and masculine. With an assortment of presentations suggesting more complex masculinity, gender-nonbinary identification, and frankly queeny effeminacy.

Reading face shots is a tremendously complex matter, beginning with the plain fact that such shots give you a hell of a lot more than than just an unadorned face (with no hair) in repose. The men have a variety of hairstyles; some have facial hair (which is not easy to abstract away); some are wearing makeup; some have their hands in the pictures, so that their hand gestures potentially contribute more information; some have adornments (a necklace, a nose ring, finger rings, tats); none of these guys is wearing any clothing (no shirts, no hats), by Barrett’s design, but in real life that would be still another source of information; and everybody has a pose to their head and everybody has a facial expression, even if it’s studiedly neutral (though nobody is smiling in any way, no doubt by Barrett’s design).

One immediate result is that you absolutely cannot say what all these sources of information tell you about the person you’re looking at. Any picture can be read in many ways, even if some have aspects that most viewers would agree on. But most viewers could be wrong, in the sense that the signals might be (inadvertently) misleading as to the true nature of the man in the picture, whatever true nature might mean (we are all many people), or the man could be putting on a persona for the picture. There really is no such thing as “just being yourself”.

Yes, working through all this is vertiginous, and Barrett probably intended for a thoughtful viewer to experience that vertigo.

The six faces. In the order they came to me in a search, so signifying nothing whatsoever. I offer for each my off-the-cuff judgment about the man in the photo, understanding that Barrett probably wants to evoke such judgments and then to challenge them.

(#1) A feminine male face, with the large eyes nature gave him, but also a pixy haircut and some lipstick

(#2) A conventionally masculine face, with facial scruff, conventional harcut for curly hair, and a visible Adam’s apple

(#3) An even more feminine presentation than #1 (though with a prominent Adam’s apple): big eyes, weak rather than square chin, plus a feminine hairstyle and a necklace (but just a simple chain)

(#4) More feminine coding on an basically masculine face plan: the hair, the lipstick, the feminine hand gesture

(#5) A conventionally “sensitive” male face, with fine features and a long swanlike neck; somewhat red lips; then that faggy slant-eye reads as queen

(#6) Conventionally highly masculine face, with a seriously butch haircut, but with defiant adornments (the nose ring and the finger rings), plus a finger beside the nose that often serves as a call for the viewer to think about things, and an intense (possibly challenging, or aggressive) stare


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