Winner of the 2021 HCB Award, Carolyn Drake presents Men Untitled at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, a new series of photographs exploring her relationship to myths of masculinity in American culture. Mixing symbols of virility, self-portraits, and photographs of men “laid bare,” Men Untitled functions as both introspection and documentary.
Following Knit Club (2012-2020), a subversive series on a community of women in a rural town in Mississippi, Carolyn Drake shifts her gaze towards men. In contrast to her previous work, she broadens the scope by separating the work from any specific geography. Erasing nearly all signs of place, Drake invites the viewer to look directly at the male bodies in front of the camera.
Drake’s work begins with reflections on her relationship to men, their bodies and the place society accords them. Getting closer to her subjects through collaborative portraiture, she ends up calling both the viewer’s expectations and her own perceptions into question.
“I worked on the periphery of my subject for almost a year before turning to face it directly. Many months were spent scouting locations, arranging portrait sessions, searching for props, and hiring assistants before I decided that what I really needed was to get the men in front of me to take off their clothes.
Despite having existed among them for half a century, I cannot claim to be comfortable around male bodies. The truth is, the male body is not a subject that I’ve ever been encouraged to scrutinize the way we do women’s bodies. It’s as though the act of looking at men is inherently dangerous.
Asking the men to remove their clothing introduced a degree of risk that propelled my fifty-year-old imagination even as sexual desire continued to elude it.
Mostly, I photographed men who were older than me. Maybe I was more interested in seeing masculinity in decline than admiring male prowess. Or maybe older men are more visibly vulnerable, making me more empathetic towards them.
Some of them unveiled their bodies with adventurous curiosity; others were willing to partly reveal themselves, letting go of their reservations as an act of generosity. Some got an erection and stood still in front of me, wondering where to direct their gaze. One person kept bending over to make sure I captured a view of his anus.
Once I started stripping away the clothing and props and scenery, what I was left with was a body alive in time, like mine. Its authority dissolved when I took the liberty to look.” – Carolyn Drake
Carolyn Drake works on long term photo-based projects seeking to interrogate dominant historical narratives and creatively reimagine them. Her practice embraces collaboration and combines photography with sewing, collage, and sculpture. She is interested in collapsing the traditional divide between author and subject, the real and the imaginary, challenging entrenched binaries.
Drake was born in California and studied Media/ Culture and History in the early 1990s at Brown University. Following her graduation from Brown, in 1994, Drake moved to New York and worked as a interactive designer for many years before departing to engage with the physical world through photography.
Between 2007 and 2013, Drake traveled frequently to Central Asia from her base in Istanbul to work on two long term projects: Two Rivers (2013) and
Wild Pigeon (2014). The latter work was acquired by the SFMOMA in San Francisco and presented at a six-month solo exhibition in 2018. In Internat (2014- 2017), Drake worked with young women in an ex-Soviet orphanage to create photographs and paintings. This work was followed by Knit Club (TBW Books, 2020), which emerged from her collaboration with an enigmatic group of women in Mississippi loosely calling themselves “Knit Club” and was shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture Book of the Year and Lucie Photo Book Awards.
Carolyn Drake’s work has been supported by a Guggenheim fellowship, the Anamorphosis Prize book prize, Peter S Reed Foundation, Lightwork, the Do Good Fund, the Lange Taylor prize, Magnum Foundation, Pulitzer Center, and a Fulbright fellowship. She is a member of Magnum Photos and is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York.
Carolyn Drake : Men Untitled
September 19, 2023 – January 14, 2024
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
79 rue des Archives – 75003 Paris
+33 (0)1 40 61 50 50
The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual French- English book published by TBW Books.
Bound, 30 x 23 cm
Text by Carolyn Drake