Monday, 4 July 2016

Like Father Like Son

Jeremy & Grayson © Richard Ansett 2016
Detail from Jeremy & Grayson © Richard Ansett 2016
'Jeremy and Grayson, 2016' is published in the new edition of Der Greif Magazine launching at the Arles Photofestival this week.

This image is from an ongoing exploration of the issues around the expression of emotion in men following the recent shocking statistics of male suicide in the UK. Through the observation of relationships between fathers and sons at varying stages of development, subjects are requested to express intimacy in the boundaried atmosphere of the photographic session and the response recorded.

The influence of cultural conditioning on males from the earliest age has historically punished the expression of any significant emotion with accusations of weakness, femininity or homosexuality. The stiff upper lip as a metaphor of the Victorian era and more particularly the British empire still pervades an element of the psyche of the male. The very definition of manhood has been represented by the exercise of great self restraint in the expression of emotion as a celebration of national character.

I am exploring the divergence of the male and female response to feeling as it relates to a moment of self awareness in the child when the outward expression of unfettered emotion that could be read by others is perceived to be judged as wrong or dangerous (or equally as powerfully) as successful. The young male child begins to see the expression of emotion as revealing weakness, exposing them to potential attack and defeat, whereas the female child at the same moment learns of its equal and opposite power. The female child conditioned through centuries of oppression to not have a voice adapts, understanding the power of the expression of emotion whereas the male child correlates withdrawal as protection. In terms of this as a broader and more defining cultural representation, the British empire itself relied entirely on this outward cold bloodedness so that only a very few could control  such vast swathes of population. The legacy of this success has led to its continued resonance in the male psyche in a modern world where the rise of women towards equality has recognised these notions as limiting and mysoginistic. This is creating a contemporary emotional vacuum exacerbating the dangers for men who feel they cannot compete with their own engrained expectations. My work as a Samaritan forces me to empathise with these notions as pressures that can lead to thoughts of suicide and self harm and the statistics for men are terrifying.

Whilst it is important to recognise that the fight for true equality between men and women is far from over and men are still the predominant force in the world, it must be recognised that there is a consequence to a behaviour that represents a certain form of success that has led to the dramatic contemporary statistics of male mental health issues and suicide. The suicide rate for men is now three and a half times that of women. The very machismo values that remain the definition of manhood are directly implicated in men's reluctance to seek help and support, whether from friends or professionals, preferring to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs with all the consequences that hold for careers, relationships, social isolation and homelessness, all of which are known to be key risk factors for suicide.

In this image of artist Jeremy Wood and his son Grayson, I perceive even at this early stage the child's need to escape from the immediate and present expression of feeling through self distraction. Often this can be observed as a desire for food, computer games, television, behavioural issues and in this particular case a small red car. The toy represents a self imposed block to his engagement with his father, he feels unable to engage with the act of intimacy without it. It seems the expression of emotion triggers a fight or flight response at such an early age that we start to develop complex evasive strategies that become the defining characteristics of the male personality in adulthood.  

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