Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Bachelor Portraits": Photographs of Single Men by Justyna Badach

Bachelors sometimes complain that "single" has become synonymous with "woman," that the media overlooks the single male and his unique interests and concerns. Well, photographer Justyna Badach is focusing the world's attention on single men through the intimate lens of her camera and illuminating the obscure, sometimes misunderstood corners of their inner spheres with her bright studio lights. In a series entitled simply "Bachelor Portraits," she captures the so-called untamed bachelor in his own abode to examine how single men can be both masculine and domestic. She is also interested in the symbolic resonance of the home for single men, portraying it as both a retreat from society and a barrier to interaction.

In an excerpt from Badach's artistic statement on the "Bachelor Portraits," she says:

The images . . . depict the safety of places where the men withdraw from the world to think, meditate and act out their fantasies. I am interested in the way that these personal spaces serve as both portrait and the junction between masculine and feminine, the man and myself.

Like bachelorhood, these spaces are both a refuge and a prison; the place where the man gets back in touch with themselves by depriving themselves of an emotional connection with the outside world . . . Many of the men expand [sic] a great deal of effort to arrange their living space, developing a kind of personal iconography or domestic vernacular. At times, this space is so profoundly personal, that it feels like I am standing in someone else’s skin.

The photos do conjure a private, cave-like realm for each of these single men, intensified by Badach's choice of subjects with individualistic and highly developed decorative styles. But there is a darkness to these photos, too, both literal and metaphorical. Although the subjects are bathed in white light, the rooms in which they pose are almost uniformly dim, muted, and often cluttered. The observer can almost smell the mustiness and feel the dust tickling the back of the throat. Most of the men are casually dressed, even unkempt, and sprawl or slouch in their environments, reinforcing the impression that the onlooker is on the threshold of the bachelor's personal territory, in which he is both sovereign lord and endangered species. While more visually interesting this way, Badach's representation of single men plays into the stereotype of the bachelor as odd, incompetent, and antisocial.

She provides a more detailed rationale for the web site Thomas Kellner--Photography in Art, in which she tries to categorize the single men she encountered, explaining, "Some are extremely shy; others have dedicated their lives to caring for a family member, while another group was so completely immersed in creative or intellectual pursuits they had little time for a relationship." Yet there are only hints of these other dimensions in her collection. The men are frozen like specimens to be studied rather than dynamically engaged in their daily lives. Badach could have showed us a bachelor getting ready for work, maybe shaving or adjusting his tie. She could've showed us bachelors passionately pursuing the hobbies she refers to, perhaps reading, painting, cooking, or playing instruments. She could've showed us a bachelor doing the household grunt work that single men are responsible for when they live alone. She could've showed us bachelors surrounded by photos of family and friends, talking on the phone, or chatting on the Internet.

But she doesn't. We see the occasional pet, maybe a child's toy in a nook or cranny, waiting for a visit, but the predominant tone is one of isolation. So it's not surprising that there's also an air of melancholy about this series, which Badach acknowledges when she says that tragedy reverberates in more than a few of her portraits. The solitude in so many of these pictures is less meditative or stimulating than it is lonely and remorseful, the light ghostly, the color palette subdued, the men themselves glum.

Badach is to be commended for exploring the lives of single men at all, and I understand that she wants to explore a side of singleness that's private, sometimes to the point of detachment. But by magnifying that side, she minimizes the side that is actively connected to the world despite the sense of physical disconnection. In my mind, it would've been more interesting--and truer to the lives of single men--to see photos that depict this contrast. Furthermore, by presenting single men as inherently different, as other, the photographer shies away from that about them which is universal. Again, it would've been refreshing to see portraits that demystify bachelors, showing them engaged in relatable activities instead of withdrawn into cocoons from which they emerge remote and eccentric.

What do you think about Badach's "Bachelor Portraits"? What message do they communicate to you about single men? If you're a single man, how is this similar to or different from how you view yourself and other single men? If you're not a single man, how is this similar to or different from how you perceive single men? What kinds of photographs of single men would you like to see in a series like this?

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The Singlutionary said...

I think this is really interesting. The photos are sad. But they are art and in that art they do portray something but I think that something has more to do with being eccentric than being single. These are photos of extremely eccentric men who are unable to engage with the world. There are moments when I can relate to that. And there are many people who are single and isolated because they are unable to engage. And then there are vibrant joyful people who do engage and are also single.

These photos portray an aspect of single but do not in any way represent the spectrum of singleness.

But perhaps that is not what the artist set out to do.

And yes, perhaps there is a bias there.

But I think all art is inherently biased.

Thanks for writing about this! I'll go and take happy pictures of happy single people and start a new postcard line.

Anonymous said...

OH BLAH. I was so excited at the beginning of this post, reading that someone had done an introspective on single men! And then of course it turns out to be the same old, same old. Perhaps Badach thought she was being progressive or alternative by not featuring the stereotypical loose-living, womanizing bachelor--but instead she went the *other* way and featured the OTHER stereotype--the cluttered-basement loner.

Also, I found this interesting: " "Some are extremely shy; others have dedicated their lives to caring for a family member, while another group was so completely immersed in creative or intellectual pursuits they had little time for a relationship." "
Why does she feel she has to give an "excuse" or "reason" for each of these men being single? Like, "what's HIS contagion?"


Clever Elsie said...

Singlutionary: I got the same impression, and I do think that's what the photographer was trying to do. But then I ask, "Why?" Why did she want to make this particular (sort of cliched) artistic statement about singles? In other words, why did she choose the more singlist route? Artists are supposed to question the status quo, make us think about how things are not what they seem. I know it's just art, but it's part of the culture, and I think artists, like everyone else in the limelight, have a responsibility for the statements they make.

Onely: I'm glad to see that quote didn't sit well with you, either. I read that and was like, "Hmmm. Is she trying to just add some dimension to who these guys were or rationalize why they're 'misfits'?" It's interesting that she didn't admit to the possibility that some of them just preferred to be single, that they liked having their own space, freedom, etc.