In Loving The Self

In what ways do we suffer in silence?

In what spaces do we offer ourselves and our bodies room to be bare?

 [Image description: photograph of a person standing against a pale wall, with one leg raised and the sole of the foot resting against the wall to the left of the image. The person is wearing leather boots with thick high heels, and a pair of leather briefs.]

[Image description: photograph of a person standing against a pale wall, with one leg raised and the sole of the foot resting against the wall to the left of the image. The person is wearing leather boots with thick high heels, and a pair of leather briefs.]

 [Image description: photograph of a person lying on the floor on their back, with their head toward the camera. Their feet are clad in a pair of chunky leather boots, and their knees are bent to rest the soles of their feet against the wall.]

[Image description: photograph of a person lying on the floor on their back, with their head toward the camera. Their feet are clad in a pair of chunky leather boots, and their knees are bent to rest the soles of their feet against the wall.]

This photo series is meant to represent the ongoing internal labour I endure to continually care for myself. But beyond myself, it represents the stories I have collected from other queer black men who live here, who push to thrive here, and who battle the challenges NYC throws at us on a mental and emotional level.

I respect the idea that labor is not always visible. That it isn’t always tangible, though its effects are felt through the actions and words we chose. The many months I have lived in this city have stretched me further than I could have imagined and has, through uncomfortable growth, connected me deeper with my body and mind.

 [Image description: photograph of a person standing against a pale wall, with their back to the camera. They are naked, but for a pair of leather boots with thick heels.]

[Image description: photograph of a person standing against a pale wall, with their back to the camera. They are naked, but for a pair of leather boots with thick heels.]

 [Image description: photograph of a person standing, naked, against a pale background, with their back toward the camera. Their arms are raised and touching above their head, and they stand in a slight lateral bend toward the upper right corner of the image.]

[Image description: photograph of a person standing, naked, against a pale background, with their back toward the camera. Their arms are raised and touching above their head, and they stand in a slight lateral bend toward the upper right corner of the image.]

When my friend had shown me his new unfurnished apartment, it reminded me of the mental space I have created to unpack and examine my life and thus I knew I needed to use this space to map out my own zone of self care. I chose to photograph a complete stranger, asked him to completely strip for this series in a space just as bare as he would become. I felt that the nakedness of both him and the room offered an unnervingly intimate view of the breakdown and buildup myself, and many of the queer men I know, have endured while we live here. Our homes our one of the few spaces we have to ourselves; spaces of our own creation and spaces in which we can exercise our emotions.

 [Image description: photograph of a person standing on top of a pale sheet that forms the background of the image. They are standing in profile, in a low crouch, holding tightly on to their knees. They are looking at the camera, and wearing nothing but a pair of leather boots with thick heels.]

[Image description: photograph of a person standing on top of a pale sheet that forms the background of the image. They are standing in profile, in a low crouch, holding tightly on to their knees. They are looking at the camera, and wearing nothing but a pair of leather boots with thick heels.]

 [Image description: photograph of a person standing on top of a pale sheet that forms the background of the image. They are standing in profile, in a squat, with their back straight and their arms crossed straight down in front of them. They are looking at the camera, and wearing nothing but a pair of leather boots with thick heels.]

[Image description: photograph of a person standing on top of a pale sheet that forms the background of the image. They are standing in profile, in a squat, with their back straight and their arms crossed straight down in front of them. They are looking at the camera, and wearing nothing but a pair of leather boots with thick heels.]

Throughout photographing Christen, I asked him of the ups and downs he had experienced while living here. And as we continued the session, he became more and more open about his experiences and how he felt, culminating in the image of him screaming upward into the room. In a way, the whole experience was a catharsis for the both of us, to unpack traumas and joys we have within us, and let them reverberate within the empty room. The last image, him sitting on the ground with eyes to the viewer, is meant to signify an exiting of the room and a willingness to readily engage the real world once more, but also represents an exhaustion of the time spent within the room, and in essence, the time spent going through the motions of self care.

 [Image description: close photograph of a person’s face, in profile, against a pale background. Their head is thrown back, their mouth open, and their eyes tightly shut.]

[Image description: close photograph of a person’s face, in profile, against a pale background. Their head is thrown back, their mouth open, and their eyes tightly shut.]

 [Image description: photograph of a person sitting on the floor in front of a pale wall, facing the camera. They are wearing nothing but a pair of high-heeled boots, and there is fabric around their ankles. They legs are loosely bent, and they hold their hands folded in their lap.]

[Image description: photograph of a person sitting on the floor in front of a pale wall, facing the camera. They are wearing nothing but a pair of high-heeled boots, and there is fabric around their ankles. They legs are loosely bent, and they hold their hands folded in their lap.]

My mother has always told me that just because we are strong does not mean that we must endure. In thinking of my life and my reflections on it, New York has fortified my strength to go on, but has also taught me that it is okay to retreat. And in fact, I retreat often within myself, come into this space and spend as much time as needed to care for myself.

I find space for myself.

I make space for myself.

I care for myself.


Mark Aghatise, fashion photographer and art director.