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November 23, 2017
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Photographs by Jon Uriarte's photo series, "The Men Under The Influence...".
"Javi & Gabi".
Photograph by Jon Uriarte.

Hairy chests and floral jumpsuits, beards and mini skirts, bulging biceps and pantyhose - just a few of the eclectic pairings present in photographer Jon Uriarte's recent photo-series, "The Men Under The Influence...".

In each photograph, a young man stands or sits in the middle of his apartment or office space, dressed head-to-toe in his girlfriend's or wife's outfit. Some men have eased into their ensembles well, while others wear their discomfort prominently on their faces, bodies stiffly resisting the pantyhose, sundresses, or high-waisted pencil skirts they're dressed in.

Admittedly, one of the first reactions is laughter; wildly hairy legs and breezy sundresses aren't a common sight. Uriarte's photo-series is undoubtedly statement-making, but there is a strong presence of humour. When I point this out to him, he comments: "I'm always seeking to mix humor and some sort of disturbing feeling in my projects. Sense of humor is always an open door to catch the people [the viewers]. And once you have them, you have the chance to explain something more profound. As [Spanish conceptual artist] Joan Fontcuberta says, 'Sense of humour is not the opposite of something serious, but the opposite of something boring.'"

Uriarte definitely has my attention. But as I review his work over and over again, the images don't normalise - they continue to provoke laughter and feelings of uneasiness. I then wonder what this series would be like if women were wearing their boyfriend's or husband's outfits; "nil, ineffective," I conclude.

Sense of humour is always an open door to catch the people [the viewers]. And once you have them, you have the chance to explain something more profound.

With the rise of women's rights and equality, society has simultaneously accepted and welcomed a more masculine approach to dressing for women. In fact, you can now buy a "boyfriend" anything at most trendy stores. When a woman wears a men's dress shirt, oversized blazer or tie, we think of her as bold, perhaps even sexy. But when a heterosexual man wears a body hugging cardigan, tight jeans, and low cut t-shirt, why are we so quick to cringe or judge? Surely, as is the case with women and their dress, there's nothing black-and-white about men's sexuality. Have we been so focused on women's rights and sexuality that we have neglected the same for men?

On Uriarte's website, the description of the photo series reads that it "addresses the recent change in roles in heterosexual relationships, from the relationships of our predecessors...the photos attempt to capture men's sense of loss...now that women have taken a step forward and have finally come into their own as equal partners."

But when asked about any conclusions he might have formed while working on the series, Uriarte tells The Genteel: "I'm just a photographer, I'm not an sociologist or anthropologist, so I'm not looking for conclusions, I just try to represent through photography some ideas or questions that I think are interesting enough to think about. I don't offer answers, just questions."

Nine photographs compose the series, taken over the course of three years. Uriarte set a few limits while taking the pictures: only one role of 36 pictures could be used for each candidate, while using only reversal film, shot strictly in natural light, in real locations using real couples.

"Steve & Fonlin".
Photograph by Jon Uriarte.

Interestingly, each photograph is titled using the woman's name and man's name, underlining that although you're seeing only the man in the photograph, the woman - having influence on the man, their relationship, and, in some cases, what he is wearing - is also present.

In "Javi & Gabi", for example, Javi's tousled hair, hairy chest, facial stubble and strong forearms, are accentuated by a bright red-orange jumpsuit with yellow flowers and a plunging neckline, paired with metallic sandals. He sits on a metal stool in the middle of a bright yellow room, and somehow the romper suits him, maybe even flatters him. 

While in "Steve & Fonlin", Steve wears a short sundress, his hair is down, grazing his shoulders. He stands, rather rigidly, in the middle of the kitchen. At first glance, Steve's lost facial expression and stiff body language makes you fell uncomfortable; but, a more careful assessment of his surroundings - the style and the colouring of the couple's space - blends into him and his wardrobe. Suddenly, Steve looks like he fits right in.

In this alarming, yet humourous series, Uriarte draws attention towards the role of men in relationships and modern society, while underlining the prominence of blurred gender roles leaving the viewer thinking: "What's next?" 

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