Art student captures social stigmas of men in photo series for ‘Collectively Here’ exhibit

In Art, Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle
(Photo Courtesy of Jessica Hartman)

Isolation, substance abuse, body image and grief make up stories untold by four people through black and white photographs at the “Collectively Here” exhibit.

These are some of the things men might find difficult or discouraged to talk about, said Jessica Hartman on what she sought to highlight in her photo series.

Hartman — a 28-year-old art major with a concentration in photography and graphic design — contributed to the exhibit, which was hosted by Cal State Fullerton’s special studies photography class, taught by professor Linda Kroff.

“I was always a tomboy, so most of my friends were always male, and so I felt like I always got to see a different side of them compared to what they presented to everybody else,” Hartman said. “I wanted to do a tribute to a lot of these male figures in my life.”

For her project, Hartman interviewed four men she knew personally about what they found most difficult for them to express.

Aside from their photos, each man was identified in the series by his birth year and words Hartman extrapolated from the interviews and displayed on copper plates.

The person born in 1990 talked most about living with depression, feeling closed off from the rest of the world and always shutting himself in from everybody, despite already being an only child. Photos depicted him tied in ropes then shown breaking free, shadowed in darkness and also playing chess alone.

The “blue-collar” man born in 1988 struggled with drinking, smoking and body image concerns resulting from extensive manual work.

“When we were talking about things, he said one of his major insecurities, especially now that he’s starting to try to date again, was ‘I don’t know if I want to hold a girl’s hand because I have such rough hands.’ It was really interesting the things they were coming up with that really bothered them,” Hartman said.

Along with a photo of his hand, there were also some of his stretch marks and one of him holding a beer and masked in smoke.

The phrase “chasing perfection” from the man born in 1977 stood out to Hartman and was included on his copper plate. Photos of him focused on the wrinkles forming on his skin.

“He’s actually a male model but now he’s hitting 40 and he’s dealing with aging and how his body is changing,” Hartman said.

The eldest man, born in 1952, didn’t mention body image at all in his interview. Instead, he talked about feeling insecure with dating as a young man and how he overcame it, and how he is currently dealing with the loss of a friend.

“Now it’s hard for me to even talk to my family and friends about what I’m going through with losing my best friend and what I’m feeling,” Hartman recalled the man telling her. “I feel destroyed right now but I feel like I have to be strong for my family.”

Photos of him centered on him and his wife and the letters and polaroids she had sent him long ago.

Hartman felt the interview with the last man was the most insightful because after seeing the photos of the younger men, he said he saw bits of himself in all of them and reiterated that these are issues men feel they can’t talk about because of society’s expectations.

The goal of the series was to bring attention to social stigmas some men have faced, Hartman said.

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