Hero quest: Paul Freeman broaches new territory
From Bondi to old world Italy: Seminal Australian photographer Paul Freeman has left his larrikin Aussie fantasies behind to focus on the heroic images of the Italian Renaissance and beyond for his latest monograph.
“I was meeting with a model the other day and he said, ‘I know, I know, you want me to grow my body hair back – you like hair’. And I said to him, ‘it’s not that I like body hair at all. It’s that a photo of you looking like you are comfortable with who you are – whether hairy, smooth, whatever – will read so much better than a photo of you looking like you spend a long time manicuring and decorating yourself in a desperate effort to please everyone else and fashion’s sense of what’s hot’. What people subconsciously find hot is someone who is beautiful plus has the strength to be an individual.”
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So says photographer Paul Freeman, who has garnered something of a cult following around the world for his rejection of the aesthetic homogeneity that often exists in contemporary male nude photography. Through his body of work, he has consistently asserted his understanding that the erotic lives within the individual, not the stereotype. Freeman’s first book, Bondi Classic, was published to critical acclaim in 2003, and a best-selling series followed, including Bondi Urban, Bondi Work and Bondi Road. Equally successful has been his recent Outback series, Outback, Outback Currawong Creek and Outback Brumby.
Freeman’s latest offering, Heroics, sees him leave behind his Bondi babes and larrikin fantasies to focus on the heroic imagery of the Italian Renaissance and beyond. Exciting and intelligent in equal measure, Freeman fuses history and whimsy to great effect.
“Years ago when I was travelling around Europe, I photographed some of the dramatic and sometimes homoerotic male nude sculptures that were publicly displayed everywhere – and taken for granted,” Freeman tells SX. “They were celebrating maleness in all its glory. Whether commemorating military victories or legendary feats of strength, or even mythical rape, they were sensual.
“It kind of amazed me that here were these very ‘out there’ depictions sitting amongst otherwise prudish, bland financial capitals and, to me, increasingly conservative societies. I always had it in my mind that I’d like to incorporate this paradox into my work in some way, and point it out.”