Life & Culture

Capturing What It Means to Be Young and Male Today

Going on display in London this week, Rosie Matheson’s portraits offer a glimpse into the lives – and souls – of her young male subjects

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Documentary photographer Rosie Matheson has been photographing young men since her late teens. What started out as a few photographs of guys she found in the street, developed into a sprawling, long-term project that shines a light on what it means to be young and male today – at a time when conversations around gender have moved dramatically forward, leaving notions of masculinity confused at best, and woefully archaic at worst.

This series, titled Boys, became a zine and now is being put on display as an exhibition, which opens on Friday (July 27) at The Black and White Building, Rivington Street. Aside from the striking features and obvious good looks of her subjects, Matheson’s images reveal more than their physicality; they capture something of their very essence too – from the cool confidence of some, to the slight shyness of others. Furthermore, they demonstrate the diversity of Britain’s young men.

Here, ahead of the exhibition, Matheson tell us more about this project – why she likes photographing boys and what she’s hoping to achieve through her images.

“I first started shooting boys when I was 17 or 18. I was quite an awkward teenager – a bit shy and not super girly – so I wasn’t comfortable shooting girls and trying to make them look hot or attractive. With boys, it was super easy – they’d just just roll up and it would take 10, 15 minutes to shoot them. I like that effortless attitude. But also how, in a one-on-one situation, they become quite vulnerable, sensitive and sweet. I like that contradiction.

“The men I look for are striking and look a bit different. The project started with Elliot of course, who has loads of freckles. I think there’s something quite interesting in taking something that they might have been ashamed of or teased about at school and flipping it round and trying to get them to feel proud of it. There’s definitely something of that in guys that I look for. And it’s about their character too – these guys are just cool and easy to get on with.

“At first this project wasn’t about exploring ideas of masculinity but it’s turned into a narrative about what it is to be a young man today – because it’s changing so quickly. It has been interesting to talk to so many people and hear how their upbringing has affected who they are and how they see themselves, and their idea of masculinity. I’m interested in their stories and what they want to do with their lives. It’s an interesting age – you finish school or uni and it’s like, ‘what are you going to do with your life?’ So I think this is an in-depth look at people. And that’s what I’m trying to get through in the portraits – a really deep special moment which hopefully reveals something about them.

“Back in the 70s or 80s, the clothes you wore or the music you listened to told everyone who you were, they defined you. I remember my mum saying back in the day they’d walk around the street with their vinyls to show what music they listened to, to almost be like ‘fuck everyone else, this is what music we like and we’re different to you.’ But now everyone wears tracksuits and listens to Drake and Stormzy. You have to really converse and find something interesting about each individual and reflect that in the photograph. And that’s what I’m trying to do, to find a deeper way to get into someone’s head and find out about who they are.”

Boys is at The Black & White Building, 74 Rivington Street, London, on July 27, 7-11pm. Head here for more information