“Am I ‘manly’ enough for the contemporary image of a man?”: David Kasnic explores in his thoughtful photography

The Chicago-based photographer delves into his personal experiences with masculinity in this emotive, ongoing project.

19 August 2020

“Art making is essential work in the preservation and provocation of ideas that amplify the full recording of what it means to be human,” says the Chicago-based photographer David Kasnic. With an enviable list of clients under his belt including the likes of Esquire, The New York Times, Adidas, Monocle and The Guardian Weekend (just to name a few), David’s established photography takes on myriad tones. Today, he tells us about a highly personal project, rather separate from his commercial endeavours.

It’s a project that’s been a while in the making, approximately seven years to be precise. It stems from a subject that stretches back to a vivid moment in David’s childhood, which in turn, led to him finding photography as a creative release. The project came about organically over time, he tells us, “as much as I cringe to say that.” It grew out of curiosity, from enquiring into the places he would repeatedly return to; his and his wife’s hometown, for example. “Admittedly,” he goes on, “the rough idea of this work came from a prompt that was suggested – to keep a journal as a way to interrogate issues that I struggle with, depression and anxiety.” Issues, he feels, are rooted in self-image, identity and masculinity.

As he delved further into the project, he would make small prints and tape them into a notebook. Sometimes he would include writing from another journal but most of the time, he lets the pictures do the talking. It’s an ongoing process for David, who’s still very much exploring these issues through the work. He readily admits, “I don’t want to give off the idea that I’m making some grand statement on something as big as ‘masculinity’. I can only speak from my own experience.”


David Kasnic: Jesus Loves You, but Prefers Me (Copyright © David Kasnic, 2020)

He remembers a childhood spent “engulfed in very male activities and interests,” specifically baseball in David’s case. With a coach that found a way to verbally ridicule him at every opportunity, David developed a fear of getting hit by pitches and was labelled “pussy swing” by the other kids on the team. At the end of the year, he quit organised sports altogether, dyed his hair black, painted his nails, got into music and played in bands, all in an “I’m going to get as far away as possible” mentality.

For David, “it all sounds so silly when I look back at that year but, when I’m honest, that experience had a traumatic effect on me that still lingers.” Questions surrounding masculinity, identity and self-doubt snowballed into bigger, challenging anxieties. It culminated in a bit of a breaking point for David, “where I was so depressed that I needed to do something differently before my situation got worse.” In turn, he started seeing a therapist who suggested using photography as a way to investigate my depression and to log pictures in a journal. Ultimately, this resulted in what David currently refers to as Jesus Loves You, but Prefers Me.

In this investigative project, David catalogues various encounters with men in environments that feel familiar from his childhood. In between these photographic encounters, he’s placed images that have been created mostly during times of high anxiety, “one of the few responsible coping mechanisms I’ve found that helps to curb panic attacks,” he adds. And through this emotive, somewhat confessional work, David poses a multitude of questions, for instance: “Am I ‘manly’ enough for the contemporary image of a man in America in 2020? What does that even mean? Do I hate these people? Do I see my father in these men?”

GalleryDavid Kasnic: Jesus Loves You, but Prefers Me (Copyright © David Kasnic, 2020)

On top of this, David recognises a privilege that comes with such issues, particularly referring to the title of the project. The title, Jesus Loves You, but Prefers Me, came from a text from his father detailing a bumper sticker he’d just seen. It stuck with the photographer because of his struggles with identity and self-image, but questioned whether it would read silly to others. “A vast majority of the people in the US don’t have the time or money to think about their feelings, let alone talk to a professional counsellor about those feelings, so I thought a lot about how that bumper sticker related to the idea of a white man sharing his personal issues with the world.”

His father plays a large role in the work, though he is rarely seen. Though typically male in some respects, he also introduced several creative outlets to David early on. With this in mind, the photographer hopes the multiplicity of this relationship comes across through the images and, more importantly, the questioning that goes alongside it. It’s an exploratory line of thought that fills all David’s images. He tells us about one in particular. The first, Eli with a cigarette depicts a young man, 19 or 20 at the time, who was out with his friends on Michigan’s shoreline in the summer of 2016. David came across them hanging out and photographed most of them that day, but Eli stood out the most.

“He was crass, swore a lot, took the most risks with jumps or tricks and wasn’t too into the idea of being photographed,” explains David. After trying a few different poses, Eli said his suggestions made him “look like a pussy” and wanted to be photographed smoking a cigarette, sitting slightly more elevated than the camera. David admires the subtle qualities of the image like the slight display of the tribal tattoo and the few drops of water resting in his facial hair. Above all, “I’ll always remember that this was somebody who wanted to be seen this way despite my attempts at breaking down that guard.” Someone David thought he wanted to be at 18, the kind of person “who would belittle me for not being like them. I hope these conflicting images can be felt in the picture.”

GalleryDavid Kasnic: Jesus Loves You, but Prefers Me (Copyright © David Kasnic, 2020)

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David Kasnic: Jesus Loves You, but Prefers Me (Copyright © David Kasnic, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.


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