"Despite commonly held assumptions, complex visual treatments of straight male masculinity are hard to come by. One could even argue that artists avoid the subject, perhaps for fear of veering uncontrollably into the realm of homoeroticism, a trap of sorts that presents itself at both the most and least overt ends of the masculine continuum.
In light of this trend, Jason Hanasik’s (b. 1981) He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore is quite remarkable. Invoking the Soldier—commonly a tired, shop-worn masculine trope—Hanasik upends expectations, creating a beguiling portrayal of a gender (and military) in limbo, where individual men struggle to navigate the cultural expectations put upon them. Try as they might to contain it, emotion and vulnerability permeate the lives of Hanasik’s soldiers, Steven and Patrick, as they vacillate between the hyper-masculine world of military service and the more delicate reality of their home lives. Steven’s self-portraits, taken on duty in Iraq, show him in various states of composure, sometimes confident and collected, sometimes weary or mournful. Patrick’s expressions are more cautious, perhaps reflecting a self-consciousness about how the camera could cast him. Even so, Patrick’s surroundings betray his sensitivities—whether basking in a beam of sunlight or standing by his front door, complete with a “welcome” sign that bears an uncanny resemblance to him, Patrick’s softer side emerges tacitly from his shell.
The portfolio is also striking in that it occupies an indistinct sexual space very comfortably. Hanasik, who is openly gay, won his subjects’ trust to such an extent that, in portraying them as the multifaceted people that they are, he was allowed to photograph them in traditionally homoerotic poses—Patrick in bed, Steven in a meadow. It is a testament to Hanasik’s skill both as an artist and curator (since he did not take all of these photos himself) that these images do not tip the project into an overly sexualized realm. Rather, they serve to question not so much Patrick or Steven’s personal sexuality, but the relevance of the impulse to determine sexual preference in dry, finite terms, when so often reality is more complicated. Hanasik portrays his subjects, and by extension, men at large, as enigmatic conflations of seemingly opposing qualities: they are guarded, yet open; hardened, yet sensitive. His work questions our proclivities to pigeonhole and underestimate, encouraging us to find comfort in our ambiguities and emotion where we least expect it."
"Over the course of the next week and a half, Steven and I grew closer, and I shot a few pictures of him. The best ones were taken those first few days when I had no idea what I was doing. I was not sloppy as much as I was naïve and searching for a picture that would describe this new space that had opened up between the two of us. Watching Steven perform in front of my viewfinder felt right. He was a familiar foreigner. He seemed to be as curious about me as I was about him. Our picture sessions were like the first few dates of a promising relationship. We offered ourselves up wholly to the other person without concern or mediation. It was the safest I had felt with another man in a long time."
a selection from the essay, "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore" in Hello Mr. Issue 05.
"Hanasik’s eye is empathic; it is not a politically critical eye that is summing up the one-dimensional cardboard cut out expectations of the male American Marine. He has managed to puncture the façade, imaging men that are struggling with a continued attachment to their chosen identity and purpose. They are in crisis, a crisis of faith, intention or selfhood that only the unwarranted death of someone too young can throw us into. They are experiencing a disillusionment and trauma that simply needs to be lived through in hopes of getting to the other side. Hanasik has labored over a nuanced investigation of inter personal relationships and has arrived at a complex and intimate psychic history of individuals and institutions. It is fairly understood that feelings accommodate memory, that how we think and feel about something creates a shape-shifting experience around how we process, remember and record it as a memory. Then the inverse must also be true, that memories accommodate feeling; the loop always closes with not a tactile truth but rather a set of triggers, emotions that are translucent envelopes for experience.
The confines of masculinity have always inspired complicated and confusing feelings and actions. Masculinity is the unmarked social norm that all gendered and sexual identities are positioned against and with, rendered almost invisible in its reduction, refinement and privileged position of non-otherness. It is also equally hyper-visible, claustrophobic, anxiety-ridden and burdened with conformity, its egocentric fragility barely scathed and deconstructed despite decades of gender scholarship. There are such profound expectations placed on us to deliver our emotions within a gendered social norm, and nothing could possibly be less flexible in terms of gender expression and individuation then the military identity. A brotherhood built on overblown expectations, a working class masculinity that promises escape and delivers conformity within a strident caste system. This is where it matters to me that Jason Hanasik has been friends with his subjects most of his life, that they share a working class military childhood. Where it matters to me that Hanasik is queer and that his subjects are not. It matters because I come to understand his subjects as a surrogate for his own coming of age narrative. I believe it would be an oversimplification for someone to consider this work simply as a queering of the military male stereotype. Hanasik’s portrayal of these young men at this particular juncture in their lives and careers is a vehicle for his own grief and self-empowerment; it is both a relating to and refusal of the outcome of these profound expectations and limitations of masculine identity."
-an excerpt of Tammy Rae Carland's essay "The Art of Loss in Jason Hanasik's 'He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore'" for the Society for Photographic Education's journal Exposure