The “Slippery” Photographs of Robert Siegelman
n an era when art is being both lauded and criticized for challenging traditional concepts of beauty and worth, and when artists and the public are engaging in ever-widening conversations about what constitutes “good taste” and evaluating what biases and blind spots still need to be addressed, nevertheless, some subjects still have remained largely off-limits.
Robert Siegelman is a photographer, mixed-media artist, and well-respected instructor at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He is also gay.
What is it like for him, I wondered, to practice in this field he loves, creating images that, as with any great artist, often say as much about him as about his subjects ~ within an environment where many still express dis-ease when presented with the male form as erotic, sensual, and, dare I say it, vulnerable?
INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT SIEGELMAN
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts:
“I think it is a tough time artistically. There is less support than ever before, funding is low. People buy safe work. Artists are considered an anomaly. I teach at an art school and they don’t even provide health insurance. Even organizations invested in promoting art as a serious and worthwhile pursuit, even they do not even support their own faculty – their employed artists.”
“I mostly tend to chose men who interest me in some way. I have no type in mind. My choices tend to be intuitive.
Many male photographers do have age ranges. 18-30 for example. I prefer not to leave out any certain demographic. I would love to shoot younger men or boys, but there are laws that interfere here. This should not imply that I am into boys; but that ideally I would include an even wider range of the masculine and male experience.
“A shoot can be very therapeutic.
One of the best parts of being shot is that the model is being looked at and focused on for an extended period of time. We don’t usually get that kind of attention in our day to day life. This is an opportunity to be seen.
“I rarely schedule two shoots in one day; but these two opportunities were too good to pass up. A twenty-six year-old and a sixty-six-year-old. The younger man is rarely available, but was in town. I have worked with him several times. The older man had come into town, and wanted me to shoot with him. I was about to leave for most of the rest of the summer; so hence two shoots in one day. I had not expected or wanted any overlap between the shoots. They are very intense. I love them, but they are tiring. But that is not what occurred. The younger guy was the first scheduled, and had just showered and was getting ready to leave, when the other man showed up. I couldn’t help but to ask if they might do a few shots together. The younger one had a train to catch, but was very willing. I mostly asked them to stand next to each other and get comfortable together.
Lots of great work from those twenty minutes. I think it was chemistry. I try to set up a narrative which is about intimacy, or isolation in regards to intimacy, the push and pull we feel with partners. And of course there is a taboo about men being intimate with each other, and the fact that it is men of different backgrounds and ethnicities makes it all the more so.
Some think it is porn, or dirty in some way. Inappropriate subject matter…”
“Honesty is dangerous. For my work to have honesty and candor: Dangerous.
What we (all of us) are aroused by can be very surprising. (Even to us!) There are somethings we know that we are aroused by, and that we consider “proper” or consistent with our self image. But watch out! Surprises happen!
Americans are definitely more uptight in general around issues of sexuality.”
“I talk to a fair number of students about these issues. Men, women, straight, gay, and more and more… undefined! I always advise to follow your instincts. Love has no gender. Also: Don’t have sex until, at least, the third date, and always play safe. Hooking up is one thing; but dating is something else. Knowing the difference is very important.”
To view more of Robert Siegelman’s work, please visit his tumblr.