Through a series of events, housemates Julia Falkner and Lorena Hydeman found themselves styling the 11-year-old nephew of a friend in clothes from their suitcases, photographing him as he discovered a new world of gender expression. The experience proved formative – both for young Kai and the duo – and it sparked what would become Julia (a photographer) and Lorena’s (a stylist) recently released series Blah Blah Genitals.
Featuring a range of boys, the series captures them as they venture into a world of dresses and make-up for the first time, mimicking this initial experience. “At first,” Lorena recalls, “Kai was hesitant, but by the end of the shoot he wanted to keep all the clothes and heels! We saw how much he enjoyed having the freedom of expressing himself through fashion away from the expectations of school friends.” Their first long-term project together, the portraits are accompanied by video interviews (with videography by Asli Demirbilek) with each subject, reflecting on the shoot, how it made them feel, and their opinions on masculinity.
Although primarily intending to capture each subject’s genuine reaction, the series also meditates on how each boy’s perspective on masculinity is perhaps shaped by his background. For this reason, the portraits were taken at the boys’ homes, in an effort to make them feel more comfortable and to give context to their opinions.
“We tried not to interfere too much and allowed them to dictate the direction the shoot was going to take,” Julia explains. “As this was not a fashion editorial, each boy’s personality was the main guideline for me and I believe their character traits shine through in the images.” This is only furthered by Lorena’s styling, agreed upon collaboratively with the boys. “The point of the styling element of this project was to give the boys the tools with which to express themselves,” she adds. “In one instance, we asked Rio to pick one item from his mum’s wardrobe to wear and he came back wearing her wedding corset with his basketball shorts.”
While the portraits are intimate and confronting, the videos are revelatory in an altogether different sense. “We were very aware of not asking the boys leading questions or pushing them into any direction,” Lorena tells us. “We wanted the images to be a reflection of what they think being a boy or man could be. These looks are not their everyday reality and we were discussing why not.”
“By asking for their reflection on the work we solidify the thought that this project is created by them,” Julia continues, “especially the video interviews which add more depth to them as subjects – we speak about their background, their family, their experience with the topic of masculinity.”
Blah Blah Genitals engages with the (sometimes over-discussed) topic of masculinity from an entirely unique angle. Not simply a representation of differing perspectives, it stands firm in its belief that the definition of what it is to be a man is comprehensive. Each interview is honest – perhaps thanks to the boys’ ages – and imbued with the fondness Julia and Lorena clearly have for each of their subjects.
We challenge you to watch and not have your heart melted.
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