Life & Culture

Benjamin Fredrickson’s Portraits Celebrate the Male Body

The American photographer opens up about a new series of work, which has just gone on display at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York

When he was 17, Benjamin Fredrickson happened upon a copy of Beefcake: The Muscle Magazines of America, 1950–2017 in a local bookstore and became enamoured with the work of Bob Mizer and the Athletic Model Guild. “The oiled body and posing straps inspired me in the creation of my work,” Fredrickson tells Another Man from his home in Brooklyn.

The male body has long been at the centre of Fredrickson’s work, a subject for contemplation that has bridged the personal and artistic sides of his life. After nearly 15 years of making nudes, Fredrickson reveals, “I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and learn something new, make mistakes and learn from them, to let go. When I started this new project, I had been sober for just under one year. I was discovering a new way of making work while uncovering things about myself that I hadn’t known before.”

In the upcoming exhibition, Benjamin Fredrickson: Photographs, the artist takes the classic physique image and layers it with references to the work of photographers including William Henry Fox Talbot, George Platt Lynes, Bob Mizer, and Robert Mapplethorpe. Inspired by Fox Talbot’s early photographic process, Fredrickson used paper negatives and a Kodak Masterview Camera to create long, intimate exposures in his Brooklyn home studio.

“I spent a lot of time composing each shot, having each subject hold the pose while I sat underneath the barkcloth and looked through the ground glass,” Fredrickson says. “That was an erotic experience in itself, staring at a beautiful naked body through the ground glass, upside down and backwards for long periods of time. Sometimes I would purposely take longer just so that I could stare in appreciation of each subject’s body.”

Inspired by the portrait and studio photography of George Platt Lynes, Fredrickson took great care to carefully compose and light his images, while skilfully weaving sexually explicit imagery that evokes the work of Robert Mapplethorpe.

“When I hear Mapplethorpe’s name the thing that immediately comes to my mind is the fact that we both tested HIV positive in different eras; he died and I’m living,” Fredrickson says. “This is the first exhibition since the introduction of PrEP, which has informed the way that I interact with people but more so when I’m at a sex club and less behind the camera.”

Although Fredrickson chose not to have sex with his subjects for this project and focus his energy exclusively on the creation of an image that celebrates the body, his work reveals a different kind of vulnerability and restraint. “I used to think that intimacy meant sex,” he reveals. “I discovered that it doesn’t and that’s what this work is about.”

Benjamin Fredrickson: Photographs is on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York from November 7 – December 20, 2019.