One morning last week, Zoe Zimmerman and I met for coffee and walked over to the TCA where her show, OF MEN is currently hanging.
Alone in the TCA Gallery I was able to view these pieces without distraction and have Zoe’s undivided attention (a major feat in itself) for the time it took for a bit of a Q and A.
Inspired by vintage Red Cross Manuals she began collecting while still at art school, she was intrigued by the images of men in suits helping one another in distress.
“Look it’s okay in our society if men are physical with one another in the hero situation where someone is being rescued.”
“Or contact sports.” She added.
“It must be so confusing for them (men) as babies they are given the same amount of physical nurturing as girl babies but when puberty hits, it’s hands off.”
In these photographs, Taos men, straight and gay, posed for Zoe’s camera. The reenactments of the Red Cross Manual illustrations seemed to me to be devoid of the discomfort I noted in some of the other shots, especially (and surprisingly) the one’s where the men are holding hands.
That such a benign act could create such angst made me laugh.
These men are clearly uncomfortable with the idea, some looking away from the camera, others glaring at the lens with barely disguised resentment.
This tension Zoe has captured tells the story of the chronic Homophobia that pervades our society.
Richard Spera and Matt Thomas who were the first models Zoe used for this series, were of course perfectly comfortable with each other.
“Too comfortable,” said Zoe.
“I was going to use them for the whole show but I realised I wouldn’t get that underlying tension the photographs needed.”
The show is broken down in three parts. First Aid, Holding Hands and Care.
The Care images are close-up shots of hand to body contact. Again the men appear far more comfortable in these roles that obviously have a reason attached to the physical contact, but the wall of hand holders kept calling me back.
“I plan to continue with the hand holding,” Zoe told me, “I want to make at least a hundred of them.”
“The power struggle between the men was very interesting when they were asked to join hands,” she explained, “like whose hand was going on top.”
“One pair of guys, finally entwined fingers,” she recalled, ” putting an end to any Alpha behaviour between them.” She laughed.
She wants this show to travel, citing Universities and Colleges as her target audience.
“I’ve done the pretty stuff, I’ve photographed women, in fact I think at this point I know what is beautiful about women, but I’ve always been intrigued with men, and I suppose having a man child brought this awareness of masculine touch taboos front and center.”
“You know, I think a (straight) man without a wife, must be a lonely creature indeed in this world.”
Photographs from OF MEN at the tcataos by Zoe Zimmerman
5 thoughts on “Zoe’s Men”
Powerful, poignant show. Amazing photography. Yes, fabulous!
As one of the subjects I can say that from the experience in the studio with Zoe and Sunny. I was brought to look at the facts of male physical contact as Zoe has presented them. While I was at ease in the setting there was at the outset a certain sense of “contrivance” to the scene, which is now way meant as a negative critique. It seemed clear enough; “Go have a picture taken with some dude that I’d never met”. Simple enough, but I must admit to a certain subtle underlying tension that developed in my sternum when the hand holding was introduced. I mean, as Zoe pointed out most American, men just don’t DO that sorta’ thing. In the end it was quite comfortable , yet remained a , somewhat “unnatural” sort of sensation. Is it conditioning”? I suppose it must be. But I hasten to add that whenever I see Sunny we do have some common bond and I think of him as a friend. I thank Ms Zimmerman for that and for the illumination of an aspect of my (poor, sad and withered) self that I didn’t know was there.
Oh I forgot to mention that straight men are NOT “allowed” to comment on another man’s physical beauty without a raised, questioning eyebrow from most listeners. That too is a shame. The men with their bodies exposed are beautiful.
Thanks for your comments, Mark, I appreciate them (and I’m sure Zoe does too) and think you make valid and important points.
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