If you Google image search Curacao, a Dutch island in the Caribbean, you’re met with a landscape of white sandy beaches sitting next to rows of pastel coloured architecture. The combination isn’t common, but as photographer Gilleam Trapenberg explains, “Curacao is an island of paradoxes”.
Born and raised on the island, Gilleam moved to the Netherlands and graduated from the Royal Academy in The Hague this year, where “masculinity and representation have long played a part in my work,” he tells It’s Nice That. In order to explore this subject matter further the photographer travelled back home, “since these are relevant themes that make up the social landscape in Curacao”.
The result is Big Papi a series of photographs which examine an area “where the cliche of macho-culture exists alongside strong, independent women and pink coloured skies”. Taking full advantage of the rose-tinted hue of Curacao’s light, the project is “a visual research into the image culture of masculinity set against a sunset lit Caribbean landscape,” he explains. “The stereotypes and clichés associated with macho culture form the starting point for the work.” Themes of masculinity are explored subtly within Big Papi through shots of boats named “Viagra”, juxtaposed with tender portraits of couples embracing. “While the work depicts men and women, the focus and theme is not solely gender-based work,” says Gilleam. “But rather with a focus on black masculinity, the stereotypes men deal with and the social norms that are projected on them. My views on the subject have definitely been changed since moving to Europe a few years ago. In my eyes, the masculinity and often the stereotype of the macho man that is associated with Caribbean men is one that is primarily an American image of masculinity.”
Gilleam explains that “themes such as status, representation and image culture” have always played a signature role in his photography. As well as focusing on these subjects, the photographer also states that the photographs are enhanced by a process that is “intuitive as the essential research is through the process of photographing and editing”.
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