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Jon Sargent explores aspects of masculinity through photography

Griffin Swartzell Jul 18, 2018 1:00 AM
It’s tempting to think of opposite pairs as the presence or absence of something, like dark being the absence of light or cold the absence of heat. But that framework breaks down under many circumstances — good is not merely the absence of evil, for example. And ignoring all the problems in even looking at masculinity and femininity as opposites, neither can be defined as simply the relative absence of the other.

For Jon Sargent, masculinity isn’t something that should be left undefined — the lack of a positive example of masculinity is harmful in real ways.

“We see men in power and how we abuse that power,” he says. “We see school shootings that are primarily done by men and boys.”

While actor Terry Crews and NBA player Russell Westbrook are setting good examples, Sargent is looking for a working definition of masculinity through his art. Now 46, he’s Florida-born and has lived in the Springs since 1996. He describes himself as a late bloomer, artistically, taking up painting after high school. Photography, his current favored medium, came later.

Since 2011, Sargent’s photography has combined male nudes with landscape photography. That’s the focus of his current exhibit at the Manitou Art Center, titled The Vulnerable Hero: The Male Nude.
“They’re all what I would characterize as environmental nudes,” Sargent says of the 25 pieces he has on display at the MAC through Sunday, Aug. 12. “I’m [incorporating models into landscapes] as a metaphor for how we as men fit in to our surrounding world and our environment.”

It’s not about personality — the majority of his models are anonymized, their faces out of frame. Rather, he uses line, composition and form to evoke strength and vulnerability. But in shooting the show, he says his process is loose and improvisational — he had his models react to the textures and scenarios he placed them in with direction. But that raises the question: Does he feel that masculinity is fundamentally reactive?

“I think it’s taking responsibility for your choices and defining that for yourself through your actions and your attitudes,” he says. “Sometimes that’s being in the moment, like how I work. Sometimes that’s thinking things through.”