|Fosse bowler hats|
First off, Steve's subjects are often ruggedly handsome men with muscles, but they're not shaved mannequins. They're often not conventionally handsome. He creates a feeling of earthiness through bare feet and the environment. Steve puts these men in everyday settings like a rustled bed inside a house, in a forest, at the beach and even the desert.
The one thing to remember is that Steve's subjects are never completely nude. Instead he includes objects and materials that cover parts of the body. The men in his photos are often shirtless with jeans, and the zipper unfastened. The unfastened zipper is a tease, but it keeps you wanting more. He shows their bare butts and even their private parts, but never does the nudity feel pornographic or uncomfortable. The naturalistic locations help to make the nudity, well, natural.
As great as he is at photographing flesh, it's clear that Steve understands the transformative power of clothing. In one series of photos, a man's face is at first covered by shadows hinting that he doesn't want to be seen. As the photos progress, he wears less clothes stripping down to nothing but a jock-strap. This is him putting himself out there, naked, finally unafraid of judgement. It's interesting that the series ends with the same man now dressed in a Hurley tank top, dark sunglasses and smoking a cigarette. Clothes have changed the man and he's stepped into a role, a performance. When he was completely naked, he looked innocent and pure, but now he's turned him into a bad boy with his body covered, especially his eyes.
It's the eyes that Steve Henry regards as sacred. The eyes are the windows to the soul and Steve may not hesistate to show someone in the buff, but he rarely shows their eyes. In most of his photos, the eyes are obscured, either by objects or shadows. There's one series that's particularly interesting because you don't get to see the eyes of anyone. The first pic is of a shirtless guy holding a dove. Purity. The following pic is a triptych of two men in a naked combat. Their faces are black holes. The next pic is of a man pulling his shirt over his head revealing his ripped body, but the shirt hides his face. The next pic is a diptych (two panels side by side) of a man whose eyes are blanked out by shadows, but the contours of his face are visible thanks to some light. The pic right next to him is of the same man wearing a blindfold. There's blood on his shoulders and chest. He might have gotten the blood from the prior fight.
Other objects that Steve's subjects wear are things Bob Fosse would be proud of. In some photos, the men wear bowler hats, the same kind of bowler hats that were heavily featured in Fosse's Broadway musicalsChicago and Cabaret. The bowler hats were Fosse's way of using his weaknesses as strengths: Fosse used hats for himself and his actors because he was insecure about his baldness. In an interview, Steve Henry says that he loves photographing a person's beauty, even if they don't know it themselves. The obscuring of the body and Steve's philosophy both speak to the unconventiality of his subjects and even their quirkiness.
|Channeling Jack Nicholson|
Speaking of quirkiness, Steve has one photo of a guy who looks just like Jack Nicholson did in The Shining. It's a split screen/diptych format, on the left side is a slightly disheveled man who looks more like Nicholson in his "Here's Johnny!" scene. To the right of this, the same man looks cleaned up and is wearing a tuxedo. It reminds me of when Nicholson's character dies and his spirit combines with mad men of the past to become a part of legend and he becomes a part of the framed 1920 photograph on the wall. Perfectly, there's a framed photograph on the wall in Steve's photo.
Legend is what Steve Henry's work will eventually become after his brand of photography becomes world-famous. After observing Steve's portfolio of work, it's clear that he's developed his own brand: a brand of real men and transforming their insecurities into beauty.