The debut book from photographer Romain Duquesne, Hi, Hello! represents a “visual exploration into the absurdity of masculinity”
Never before has masculinity been under so much scrutiny: questions of what it is, how it connects to power and privilege, how it can be harmful or ‘toxic’ fill contemporary discourse. It’s something that Romain Duquesne – a Belgium-born, Australia-raised photographer, who is currently based in Hackney – has spent a lot of time ruminating on and it’s this that drove him to create Hi, Hello!, a photography book that he describes as “an ironic semi-literal, semi-metaphorical visual exploration into the absurdity of masculinity and the ways in which men and boys navigate through all of its notions”.
The book opens with the words “for men who are boys, a cry to connect” scrawled across an image, which Duquesne says is “a way to identify the male who demonstrates a brash example of masculine stereotypes. For men seeking to vocalise all of their opinions with an emphatic delivery.” What follows is a series of soft, sensual photos that attempt to visualise some of the ways masculinity expresses itself. Featuring models, along with some of Duquesne’s friends, the focus is on male bodies and the interaction between male bodies; the touching of hands, the flexing of arms ...
Duquesne’s photographic language itself takes inspiration from Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture by Bruno Munari, the early work of Walter Pfeiffer and the portraiture of Man Ray, but these influences are not literal and the book stands as a strong, singular body of work. Available now at Donlon Books, which is back open for business from today, Duquesne opens up about the book, the process of creating it and what he hopes it achieves.
“I started to think about themes I could work through on personal projects and decided to begin with this. It was a way for me to explore both my observations of – and experience of – the male need to fill every space, every void with an over-compensating sense of masculinity. Not that this was an exercise in complete criticism of men or masculinity – more a study of the tension and awkwardness that can arise in these situations.
“I began by working on general interactions between men – handshakes, for example, which seem to be a pivotal focus in interactions between two men. A strong, firm handshake is seen as a sign of a man’s true character, so I wanted to start by capturing the moment that the hands separate as a way to show a moment where, for a split-second, the facade may drop. Much of my research was observational, based on men creating a sense of authority while dominating a space. I also looked at different forms of posturing, from primates to sports and fitness.
“My close friend Gabrielle Lawrence of People File began the process with me by casting two of the models I photographed initially. As the project continued, I sought out some of my friends to be a part of it, each chosen to suit a particular idea, dependent on physical characteristics and an understanding of what I was trying to convey.
“I wanted to portray the men respectfully. They were all aware that this wasn’t a portrait series but more of a directed, scenario-based situation where they played characters demonstrating varying levels of uncertainty through forms of intimidation and aggression.
“I focused on these themes not to find a complete resolution, but predominantly to keep the conversation on modern-day masculinity flowing. Much of the material released in our time, either online or in some cases print, can feel quite transient. This is an attempt for me to create something which I can only hope resonates with people and therefore has more of a lasting impact.”
Hi, Hello! by Romain Duquesne is available now from Donlon Books.