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?
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.
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.
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.
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.