Male Identity: Liam Warton

Australian born Liam Warton is a photographer and videographer currently living and working in Stockholm, Sweden. His work is striking and stylised with a strong creative flair that utilises colour and contrast. We love the direct and honest approach he has to his work, and the spontaneous spirit that he captures so well. Liam has also been working on a personal series which questions the gender roles within photography; specifically how heterosexual masculinity is portrayed. He shared with us his objective behind this project, as well as some of the images he has created exploring it.

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Your work is very varied in style, but your use of colour is what initially attracted me to it. I also love your creative placement of people in various environments. It looks like it would be fun to be on a shoot with you! What is your way of thinking when it comes to working with another person – in terms of using them as the subject in the image? Do you already have a location in mind beforehand or is it a spontaneous trip out to see what you can find?

I hope that is the case and that my subjects enjoy shooting with me and being a part of the process! My approach is in many ways unconventional and therefore I hope that it might provide an environment that is amusing to partake in. I am always on the lookout for new environments that I can use in my photography (this part of my brain doesn’t turn off). I like the idea of finding beauty in unexpected places or things that most people don’t pay any attention to. I am definitely inspired by my surroundings, and I am drawn to places that have strong angles, lines and colours that I can take advantage of. Most of the time I will have a planned location in mind but that is the extent of the planning that goes into my shoots. The rest of it comes through the process of connecting with my subjects and seeing where the shoot takes us. I am always pretty confident that in the process of shooting and that I will come up with some ideas (as I think generally you see directly what works and what doesn’t). Other times I will just be out with friends and I will take some photos spontaneously.

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A lot of photographers that I know, work with the same people over and over because they feel that they produce better work when there’s a formed relationship there to draw on. How do you go about choosing who to photograph? Does it matter to you if it’s a stranger or a friend?

I mostly work with friends or friends of friends. I definitely agree that it can be easier to produce stronger work if there is already a relationship there so that the subject feels comfortable in front of the camera. However, I also like the idea of photographing discomfort and the unknown element that shooting strangers offers, as they act as a blank canvas which I can manipulate into my photographs. But this poses certain difficulties as I have an introverted personality.

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Is there an image or series that you’ve created that’s important to you, or that you’re particularly proud of?

I usually go out and shoot with friends and experiment with ideas that have been floating around in my head. However, last year I wanted to challenge myself and create something that was meaningful to me, this resulted in my series ‘Soft Porn.’ I am really proud of these images aesthetically and for the message they convey.

I created this series as I am a photographer who belongs to an industry where it is acceptable to exploit and over sexualize women in the name of art, or to guarantee cheap likes. I would rather not contribute to the male gaze and strengthen the already ingrained stereotypes but rather portray both men and women equally. On the other side of this spectrum, when men are portrayed in photography they are shown to be strong, muscular protectors. Anything that does not fit this mold results in them being labelled as “homosexuals” or “pussies”.  As a heterosexual male who does not strongly relate to this outdated masculine stereotype I find this particularly troubling. Therefore, I decided to flip the scales and place myself as the model in the same vulnerable, weak, contorted sex positions which women are continuously subjected to.

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(Excerpt from Liam’s website) : Soft porn disguised as art. Women are often over-sexualized under the notion of art. Shot in strips of beautiful light and shade on grainy black and white film. Their bodies are consciously bent and curved, lead onto display to indulge a particular crowd. Their form is vulnerable, weak and naked. They don’t own their bodies or their sexuality. This type of soft porn strengthens the already long engrained norms and stereotypes of old-fashioned and out-of-date terms of sexuality. It damages the endeavour for a broader definition of femininity and masculinity in our day and age, whilst concurrently harming our freedom of identity and expression.

Why is only the female gender being portrayed and sexualized in this way? Would men portrayed in the same way get the same positive response? In what way does this form of sexualization hurt our identities?

I found this series of images and the intentions behind them really resonated with me and it’s a topic that my friends and I discuss a lot. Do you see yourself exploring this in your work more?

I am really glad that this series has resonated with some people because I believe these issues are really important for both men and women. The hypersexualisation of women within photography can result in women deriving their self-worth only from their physical attractiveness, and therefore an object for others’ sexual use, rather than a person with the capacity of independent thought. With the perpetuation of degrading images today, this undermines womens’ social and political power. On the contrary, the one-dimensional stereotypical portrayal of men as only being strong and powerful is extremely problematic. This leads to men being discouraged to show a full range of emotions such as vulnerability, fear, hurt or despair. Also, this means that fewer men openly speak about their problems with each other and less men ask for psychological help as they are afraid of showing these emotions. And for those who deviate away from this mold they are often discriminated against, labelled as “pussies”, “fags”, “needing to man up” or “grow a pair”. I hope that I in the future will continue producing series’ that critique societal norms and discuss issues which are important to me.

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Images © Liam Warton
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To see more of Liam’s work: www.liamwarton.com/
Instagram: www.instagram.com/liamwartonphoto/

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