Melbourne-based photographer Good John talks about his series Zeph, his views on photographing men and masculinity.
Can you tell us a little about this photo series?
These photographs were taken at the Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens and at the model’s house in Coburg, a suburb of Victoria, Australia. The man in these photographs is my friend Zeph. I chose him because I was just drawn to him; his character, the way he expresses himself so freely and because of the way he engages with people. He is a stunning and genuine person and I just needed to photograph him.
When we met up to talk about the shoot we talked a lot about what we now like to call “masculinism.” We spoke about how there is this perception of men that has circulated pop culture since either of us [can remember]. Anything that operates around that representation is seen as either boyish, rebellious or feminine. These photos are a play on that—that “real” men can both be soft and hard, vulnerable and strong, and so on.
“’Real’ men can both be soft and hard, vulnerable and strong, and so on.”
What draws you to photographing men?
This has been a really tough question for me to answer because there are so many reasons that draw me to photographing men, all of which are so inextricably entwined. To put it in perhaps the most straightforward way I can, it is the desire to create imagery that could shift existing stereotypical, harsh and outdated standards of male representation; standards that lend to the cultural conditioning of what it is to be “a real man.” I want to create something more fluid and honest that represents the “real” men I know, to show them as they are—human.
“I want to create something more fluid and honest that represents the “real” men I know, to show them as they are—human.”
What is your favorite part about taking photos?
During a shoot there is always this one photograph, and as I am about to take it, I know it’s going to be something really special. In that moment everything just comes together and it is the closest to beauty and happiness I can experience. Seeing and realising that moment… that’s my favourite part about taking photographs.
“During a shoot there is always this one photograph, and as I am about to take it, I know it’s going to be something really special. In that moment everything just comes together and it is the closest to beauty and happiness I can experience.”
You capture a lot of emotion and honesty in your work. How do you connect with your subjects?
Thank you. Well there’s a lot of talking that happens before and during the shoot. I approach the men I photograph with my ideas, telling them what I want to achieve and why. Then a really open dialogue happens between us and mostly (quite serendipitously) my ideas and feelings regarding the work have also been close to them, so we connect in that way and their reaction to being photographed is unmediated. From that dialogue, trust is established and it is because of that that things just happen; those in between moments, chance moments just happen during the shoot where the subject is really himself. It is in those types of moments where honesty lives and emotion is expressed unreservedly. When understanding and trust is there, everything happens so naturally. They can just be who they are.
“It is in those types of moments where honesty lives and emotion is expressed unreservedly. When understanding and trust is there, everything happens so naturally. They can just be who they are.”
Is there anything about your work you wish people knew?
I don’t edit my photographs. I only crop them sometimes… and I only photograph using film.That’s pretty important to me.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I guess I am not interested in how a camera works—what’s out or what’s new. I don’t ever pick up a pen to draw and think ‘it’s this brand or that type of quality ink’. That’s how I like to use a camera, just as a tool, and photography just as a method. I don’t even care about technique really. It’s more important to me to be honest while talking about what it is to be human today. That’s what I am trying to do anyway.