What Kind of Man Would I Be?

Installation photo by Jay Jones courtesy of the Luggage Store Gallery.

If I had been born a boy,

What would the world have taught me?

How would the world treat me?

How would I treat the world?

How would I wear my insecurity? My pride?

What would I do with my vulnerability, my fear, anger?

How would I have understood and expressed myself?

How would I have navigated the constraints and freedoms of “manhood”?

How would I love?

WHAT KIND OF MAN WOULD I BE? is a photo series of self portraits of myself as a man that investigates how the mask can bring truth closer to the surface.  What we hide behind is informed by what we have to hide.   As an artist, I am interested in the lives behind a face — a presence lived, dreamed, remembered, forgotten – and in the mask that obscures it.   We most often mask to hide hurt, fear, and the soil of experiences those feelings grew from. If you look closely, the covering, rather than conceals, points out – the mask reveals. We understand that this is not to be acknowledged in society to the point we often don’t see it. It is symptomatic of the syndrome in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. We all tacitly agree to this and expect it of one another. No one told us why while we were being taught to do this. We are conditioned into this collective cultural blindness so early that we rarely think to ask.

In many non-Western cultures, masks are spiritual or magical tools. Masks are used to get closer or connect to something outside of the self; to draw spirits or bring the rain; and to communicate with the divine. Here in the west we mask to get further away from each other and ourselves. We mask to contract rather than to expand. In the Man series, I do both. I expand and contract to illuminate. I rearrange myself to reveal. I am both Inside and Outside. My ‘disguise’ reconciles.

And then there’s the carnival. Step right up! Guess who’s behind door #7!

From it’s inception in February 2012 to it’s completion in September 2016, the project was interactive. The photographs were disseminated via blog, Facebook and email asking the viewer to speculate on who the person in the photograph was. The photographs and these responses are documented here.

WHAT KIND OF MAN WOULD I BE? culminated in a solo exhibition at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco form October 14 thru November 11, 2016 and was extended through December 31. On November 11th, I did an artist talk in conversation with Justin Desmangles of the Before Columbus Foundation.

The project and exhibition were supported in part by an Individual Artist Commission Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Exhibit A.
 Ted Osaka, piano player interned by US government 1941. – David Boyce
Old school hoofer on the black vaudeville circuit. – Darius James
Old school Las Vegas high stakes playing gangster who shoots his opponents under the table when they start getting antsy. Dumps bodies in the desert. Only dates showgirls. Fucking untouchable, man.  – Peta Pottinger
Don Juan DeRosa
Tango Musician. Ladies Man. By day, tour guide & exporter of antiquated oddities. Collects and breeds the praying mantis as a pet. – Peter Maravelis
He is a good man. He admits when he does not know much about the subject at hand. What he does know he says with confidence. He argues for what he knows to be true. Sometimes he is wrong. He does not acknowledge his mistake, but neither does he insist on it. He rarely apologizes. He is not nice, but he is kind. – Leah Johnston
out of my league. he always resented my ineptitude in the art of personal fashion, and i resented being told not to wear the most comfortable sweater i own in public.
– Brandi Brandes
she tried to dilute it by marrying a white man but her chinese lineage surfaced on the face of her child, just like that photograph surfaced from the things she kept hidden. he was dressed in his finest suit. he looked hard. he was the ‘dirty chink’ your grandmother was not supposed to marry. she loved him. she tainted your english family’s blood and was cast out for it. he was killed in a riot and she raised your mother alone. she gave you the love your mother wouldn’t. the few you met who knew him said you looked just like your grandfather. – Kata Miletich
Handsome. Austere. The kind of man I would think twice about crossing, yet I think probably has a heart of gold…  – Maia Ipp
Hired Assassin with a heart of gold who ends up falling in love with the woman he’s supposed to kill. – Luigi Anzivino
You would be smoking in the alley, looking sideways at the ladies. The face of a boy, but the courage of a warrior. You hold your cards close to your heart, silent and mysterious. But those eyes, those eyes, you can kill or save a soul with one look.  – Julie Lindow
squats on the sidewalk, smells like cloves, knows everybody’s name, rolls up cash in a tight bundle, soft collared shirts, a good father. -Jade Brooks

This guy says “Oye Mami, I got them dollars…” -Elitrea Frye

Making dollar out of fifteen cents.. -Ali Dadgar

“Three Card” Carlos. Need I say more? -Peter Maravelis

Saturday night el centro 1939 from the stories my dad told me -Paul Yamazaki

shell game Shawn -Bryan Butler

 gravedigger & coffin ed are looking for this cat.  magritte wants his hat back
-Paul Yamazaki
what a man.
an interrupter, spends too  much money on clothes, drinks soda, listens to classic hip-hop, has an extensive record collection that he talks about a lot.  no car, cause he spends all his money on clothes.  definitely not a vegetarian.
-Elaine Kahn
Hand shape still curled around a sax that got pawned years ago. Kids today don’t know how to show respect. My life is written in the folds of my clothes, skin, the sticky weight of my chains against my neck. The sun gets hotter every day. Kids better learn to respect. They have no idea where these shoes have carried these feet, and me along with them. Learn some respect.
-Walter Kitundu
This homeless man might also be a magician, a santeria priest controlling the city. Your only indication is the way his coattails defy gravity.
-Janaki Ranpura
The narrator of tales.
-Chompunutt Mayta
Mr. Smith (not his real name) Fetishist. Enjoys being “caught” in lewd acts. The acts themselves offer him no pleasure. Only the guilt afterwards. Has been banned from every men’s big and tall clothing store in the greater Bay Area.
-Peter Maravelis
Uncle Marvin likes to shoot pool with his friends, but we have to help him to his bed, and funny, he doesn’t remember the next day.
-Armeka Jackson
I’ve never met an audience that doesn’t present me with the opportunity to find the love of my life.
-Janaki Ranpura
Big brother, and thanks to you, your brother is the most successful clown in the Bay Area. You are a Boohaab, every animal in Boohaabia knows your call, recognizes your face and smell and will eat from your hand. You know all the ancient Boohaabian Texts, Phophus Songs, and Sonic Codes though in your 200+ years some of them have started to blur.
-Kevin Carnes
Hi Tan!  It occurs to me, as I look at this guy, and try to gently agitate my brain waves until something clever rises to the surface, that this project says just as much about me (/all of us on this list) as it does about these men and masculinity.  It feels striking not because the thought hasn’t occurred to me before–it has–but because something about this guy makes me think “look twice, you missed something.” -Leah Johnston

One of the DeBarges…Theophilus DeBarge. But you tell all your homies to call you Touchdown, or T.D. -Nate Garner

kicking Tiger’s ass -Ali Dadgar

I see a young preppy hip hopper shopping almost exclusively at gap.-Shashari Kiburi

Tad Coughenour- You look like you just told somebody to suck your dick.

Raymond DuPree. Billiards shark. Wine connoisseur. Enjoys the company of young married men. Never wakes before noon. Never sleeps before 3 a.m. -Peter Maravelis

Alexander Xi, pro golfer -David Boyce

Young upstart in the country club with bags of high grade herb for the kids and a wicked back-hand
-D. Scot Miller

This golfing man is Buster Keaton-ish without intending it, thinking he is shimmying up the ladder of power, but always inadvertently appearing foolish. I’m afraid people laugh at this man behind his back. -Janaki Ranpura

i remember him. I couldn’t figure out if he was a golfer or a swindler, even months after we met. I didn’t trust him from the start, yet somehow, he talked me out of my better judgement on many occasions. and still have some mysterious concern about what became of him years after we parted ways.
-Brandi Brandes

he was a sensitive boy. he didn’t get that from me.
i don’t know who taught him to be a man. his sisters only taught him to be the youngest, and it is not only men who think that the world is owed to them. he was the youngest; he was spoiled.
i did not teach him to be a man. he is strong and capable and dominant, but i am strong and capable and dominant: these things are not what it means to be a man. -Leah Johnston
Exhibit 44

Mr. Todd waiting to cross the street it is late afternoon and all he’s done is errands. –Jade Brooks

listening toward life-death-life decision about the betrayer –Gayle Mohrbacker

I know his shoes, white wingtips. I know the quarter he flips through his fingers. It stays shiny. I know his cane, I know his pocket watch. But usually he has a smile. Today he’s tired. And when he’s tired, he can be deadly. –Janaki Ranpura

A collector of money and souls… _Josiahluis Alderete

Even Shrimp Boy is afraid to say your name and made sure not to mention you during his trial. –Kevin Carnes

 i remember him. he spoke outside with an indoor voice and it still somehow carried from the sidewalk through 2 concrete feet of brick and mortar into my studio. he strung together verbal abstractions that alternately amused, moved, inspired and horrified me. he was grateful for string cheese, even though i wanted to give him a notebook instead, but something told me it would make things worse.
– Brandi Brandes
You’re an alien from a planet where wearing one shoe and drinking from a can in a paper bag is height of austerity. You’ve just discovered the earthlings macabre fascination with “basketball” from this thing called a “newspaper”. Realizing you still have so much to learn, you despair. Don’t give up little alien, you’ll get it by and by!
– D. Scot Miller
VC during the dotcom bubble, used to wear bespoke suits and fine dine three times a week. Drove a Bugatti. Lost it all, didn’t have a penny saved up, and nobody liked him. Every now and then still has an idea for an app that might make him a millionaire again.
– Luigi Anzivino
reminiscing about that trip to Holland after college
– Danny Cao
This man has a prosthetic leg and pisses himself. He smells bad. He has lost his mind, and whenever it threatens to come back, he goes off to lose it again.
– Janaki Ranpura
You know what you want to say. It just takes some time to form the words. We live in an impatient world. Your fumbling for expression frustrates people. Irritates your friends. Were they friends after all? Socially awkward but well meaning your last employer let you go after students complained about your staring. You didn’t mean anything by it. You were marveling at the ease with which young people conversed and smiled and flirted. Like another species. You put yourself in their shoes and dreamt of closeness. A job interview seems out of the question now. You are drifting… Drifting toward a shadow of yourself. Drinking settles you, grounds you, dredges up memories of Edie, back in fifth grade, who held your hand in spite of the stares.
– Walter Kitundu

“I have two daughters. They are by different mothers, but my exes, they get along. We don’t all spend time, but they know each other, pass children back and forth, sometimes have heart to hearts. I spend a lot of time with my music, but I try to see my daughters every day. They don’t live with me. That is best for everyone, I think.” –Leah Johnston
Perfect, sitting in for Jimmy Noonan. –Paul Yamazaki
“Licorice stick” is the name of that thing.. That wood, Tony Scott said, “They call it grenadilla. It’s what they hung Jesus, and all those criminals from, on the cross.” After they played their first number, Scott said “We oughta copyright that thing.” Buddy De Franco said “We ought to have copyrighted it 60 years ago.” –Steve Dickison
Gorgeously NOMI-esque… –Eric D. Clark
The kind that could get into a knife fight over the use of a diminished chord in the 5th bar of a twelve bar blues. –Michael Cavaseno
They call you “Blue” because no one can remember your name after you leave with the finest girl in the club but they definitely remember that you blew some serious shit while you were on the bandstand. –Kevin Carnes
Barney Bigard!!!! -David Boyce
Synesthete distracted by color of the night. –Janaki Ranpura
Exhibit 45

pass the sprouts + pass the IPA. this guy sets up sound equipment I can tell –Jade Brooks

“Gone.  Our city.  Here’s where it was.” –Gayle Mohrbacker

This is the only kind of guy who messengers in Manhattan, wearing his SF t-shirt and wondering when the fuck if ever he’ll get back home. Not another winter here, please. –Janaki Ranpura

“They Broke My heart” –San Francisco –Emily Carter

He takes this to church for show and tell.
Because he’s not that good at telling; he’s not that good at words.
The Americans get this, though; it’s a story even the men know.
With these no-words, his eloquence touches everybody.
By the evening, he gets lonely. He goes to the bar. He notices that while his book is open, no one shouts loudly.
– Janaki Ranpura
translator. –Dave Mihaly
your own proud grandpa, for sure. subtle sense of humor and enjoys games. –Elaine Kahn
look like the kind that can kick my ass –Leo He Zhao
 Waited six weeks for this horn. Thought it would be bigger. At least my shadow feels like Lincoln.
– Walter Kitundu
Saw dust and tinsel. I do it for the thrill but it’s lonely here.
 The kleig lights are out. The Big Top flaps in a billowing heap on the circus ground. The children are gone.
 I juggle hats. I tumble out of cars.
Bouquets of flowers bloom out my ass. I fart and it smells like roses.
 There is no more laughter here.
 I could visit the sideshow.
 The Mermaid is fishy. I like the way her scaly nipples pop
And how she tastes like fresh sushi in my mouth. Her mighty tail flops around.
 Or I could jig saw with the Boneless Girl. That would be good for my back.
 Or maybe Wormboy would suck my cock. After all, he can roll cigarettes with his tongue.
 The Bearded Lady is fat and lumpy. Her jello legs are jumpy.
 Fuck it. I am going to get drunk and listen to Edith Piaf.
– Darius James
%d bloggers like this: