Muscle mass and material success may have been markers of manhood fifty years ago but, over the past few decades, we have seen the face of masculinity undergo significant changes. Photographer Rosie Matheson has spent the past three years documenting young men to better understand what modern masculinity looks like. “I was surrounded by photography from a young age; my grandad worked at Kodak and photographer Zed Nelson is a close friend of my parents. I’ve been comfortable with a camera in my hands since I can remember, and it’s always been my main form of expressing how I feel and of navigating the world around me,” the photographer tells It’s Nice That.
Rosie’s series Boys is made up of dozens of thoughtful and sensitive portraits of young men from all walks of life. “I felt way more relaxed photographing boys. It suited my preference for quick shooting and I liked that they never requested styling or make-up, which made each shoot super casual. It also took the pressure off initially as I was still finding my way,” she says. Rosie’s images are effortless in their dreamy, soft aesthetic as she manages to capture the delicate complexities and nuances, strengths and vulnerabilities of each character she photographs.
Rosie often finds herself turning to a quote spoken by the legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson: “In a portrait, I’m searching for the silence in somebody”. Subtlety is at the heart of Rosie’s body of work; each sitter is evidently confident in front of the camera’s lens, allowing the photographer to extract honest moments of expression. “I try not to interrupt who a person is. Instead, I try to capture an instance or movement that reveals something about who they are. I try to achieve this through conversation and observation, particularly how they move and react as we walk through the streets and chat,” she says. Boys is, in this way, a study of the multi-faceted and nuanced nature of modern masculine identity.
“Photography is about educating, it’s about offering a new perspective, about putting forward an opinion and about challenging preconceptions. That’s what I hope Boys does. I’ve been shooting it on and off since 2015 and it’s really my interpretation of 21st-century men and how I perceive them. Reflecting on the series so far, I’d say the project focuses on people who don’t realise how special and interesting they are, and whose faces reveal their stories.”
The next step for Boys, hopes Rosie, will be to turn her series into a short documentary that will give voice to the characters she has photographed. Shooting the doc on film, Rosie plans to deepen our understanding of the photogenic boys’ individual stories in order to better comprehend how they might define masculinity today. “I’m sure people will look at my photographs, which are open to interpretation, and form an idea about who they think the person they see is. Then I want the viewer to watch the film and learn something more, or perhaps something completely different, about the boys, prompting them to reassess the original images,” Rosie explains. The film, she says, will hopefully reveal what lies under the facade of social expectations. It is these assumptions and preconceptions that Rosie is challenging, one medium at a time.
You can support Rosie’s upcoming documentary by clicking here.