Year of the Ear: Alexander Coggin’s ear portraits celebrate the variety of society

In his latest photographic census of zoomed and cropped imagery, the London-based photographer turns his focus onto lobes and earholes.

1 September 2021

Maybe yours are hairy, waxy, or constantly adorned with a set of AirPods. Perhaps you’ve decorated them with an earring or two, or maybe they’re completely bare. Maybe they’re slightly wonky, or round and small. We’re talking about your ears, by the way, the focus of a new series from London-based photographer Alexander Coggin.

Entitled Year of the Ear, the photo series is an evolution of his previous project Clavicle Studies, “census-based projects that have always excited me,” he tells It’s Nice That. The one preceding was an up-close snapshot of various subjects’ clavicles, zooming in on the throat area and revealing little but the jewels and collars that adorn them. Working within a strict set of parameters while shooting the work, Alexander thought to himself, “how can we focus and celebrate the idiosyncratic self? I’m in a constant conflict with homogeneity and isolating parts of the body allows for thrilling variety. I noticed that my ears were hurting, clocked why, and I kind of took it from there.”

This time around, we’re steering in a little further – a little more personal – towards the humble and familiar ear. Everyone has them, after all, so there’s no need to be embarrassed about what yours might look like. Year of the Ear proves just that, as it shows the diversity and variety of every type of lobe and earhole possible. Much can be said about a person’s choice in clothing or ways in which they choose to present themselves, and the ear is no different; it can be anything from the earrings you wear to the cleanliness. “Ultimately,” adds Alexander, “we’ll never know what the signifiers mean and how they contribute to a whole portrait of a person.” This means that, even if you think that ear might be telling you something, you’ll never fully know what that person is like until you meet them. And no one likes to be judged; maybe they were in a rush and forgot to put on their favourite pair of hoops? “But the clues are there and it’s that exact dearth of supporting information that excites me so much and spurs my imagination.”

“There are so many small preferences and personal corners of our appearance that we are intensely familiar with,” he continues. “An earring that might always be falling out, say, or headphones that constantly tangle. A tattoo we regret. I just really like seeing if I can imagine the rest of these beings, these full humans. By studying their costume choices, can I extrapolate theories on their occupation, their values?” Alexander’s answer is that it’s theatre, and always will be, with this work feeling “elemental” to a much larger idea that navigates around topics of identity – or what he describes as “character armour”.


Alexander Coggin: Year of the Ear (Copyright © Alexander Coggin, 2021)

Within Year of the Ear, there are many clues that suggest this project wouldn’t have existed a few years back; the AirPods being one, but also the straps of face masks creeping in from the corner of the frame. If anything was to represent the past year or so, then it’s going to be the face covering coupled with wireless headphones, especially for those living in the bustling metropolis. “The city is a stressful experience,” Alexander notes. “It’s too loud, too filled with disease, too much glare bouncing off steel towers. The ways that we bundle and blind, stimulate and soothe ourselves is momentarily most evident at, on and around the ear. So I think it’s a very modern, specific and telling part of the body. It’s a topical, morbid snapshot, and I couldn’t have taken these images before 2019.”

We wouldn’t be surprised if you cracked a smile or two while flicking through the images in Year of the Ear, for they are fully intended to be enjoyed. But there’s also a sense of wonder that prevails, questioning our commonalities and differences as human beings. Plus whether or not there’s an ear that looks similar to your own. Alexander is known for producing work of this kind; the type that makes you laugh and think at the same time. We’ve seen a recreation of an Italian-American kitchen, snapshots of “hetero-Americana” and a recent project photographing the children of his family. In the future, we can expect many more wonderfully entertaining projects to arise, as well as the usual influx of editorial and commercial work that he says is “humming” gently along, “thrillingly”.

But his personal work, for that matter, sounds a little more intriguing, as he’s been working on a photographic census involving street trash, a long-form series with art director Alice Ray – a “still-fuzzy and developing project” that involves portraits of queer people. Elsewhere, he’s also finishing up another census based on the project 100+ Male Nudes. Defining himself “against the studio tropes” and working more indoors due to Covid-19, Alexander wants to address the often heterosexual cisgendered photography subject (i.e. the nude) with a refreshingly new angle. “It always felt very gross and uninteresting,” he says. “So I’m trying to queer it a bit.”

GalleryAlexander Coggin: Year of the Ear (Copyright © Alexander Coggin, 2021)

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Alexander Coggin: Year of the Ear (Copyright © Alexander Coggin, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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