Coming into view, a man, a force of nature.

Notes on Seeing Men #2: The Subject’s Perspective

A man from Germany contacted me a few months ago; he was searching for a photographer. In my photos he saw intimacy and friendship. He was looking for a photographer who would capture his inner being, his personality and help him find acceptance in his body, feel his strength even within limitations and who was also curious to see, what I would see.

Together, we embarked upon the journey of discover, and 50 days, 50 emails and 555 photos later, this is what Karsten wrote to me about his experience. He generously agreed to share, because, part of his project is to not hide his predicaments, his body, but to stand tall and honest, as the man he is.

I’m humbled to have been the witness and creative accomplice. In a future blog, I will share more about the experience of Seeing Men, as a woman.

Karsten has a way with words. Here is a vision of a man rediscovering himself, above and beyond any mental, emotional and physical constrictions; a man who has found the freedom to live inside what to some would feel like a crippling death sentence. A force of nature.

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“One, two, three”, she counts, her voice soft, her eyes sharp. She’s as focused on me as her camera lens. I try not to blink, wonder if I look relaxed, when she presses the switch and takes the picture. I’m sitting on the dusty hardwood floor of an empty old warehouse in Denmark, dimmed autumn sunlight streaming in through blind old window panes. I’m wearing nothing but the look on my face.

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“One, two, three.” In the beginning, at the start of our session, I feared it might feel uncomfortable, like being observed, exposed, inspected, controlled by this unknown woman. It seemed strange, almost unreal, to strip naked in front of her, just about an hour after we met for the first time and shook hands a bit nervously and insecure, in a place we both had never been before.

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“One, two, three.” Is this real? Is this me? Something’s changing deep inside of me, I begin to feel an inner strength that I thought I’d forever lost. Twenty years ago an ice-cold Dutch neurologist told me I had multiple sclerosis. It felt like a death conviction, it broke my first marriage and left me without a home, without a future, without love, but with a devil by my side. Since then this devil has tried to break my back many times. But he didn’t succeed. Even though the devil soon joined forces with his evil twin.

“One, two, three.” Take a closer look. Notice the long scar running across my body, emerging from the right sight of my waist and pointing South. Since 15 years I’ve also been fighting against cancer, three battles already won, but each victory is always just a temporary one. The never-ending fight has left marks on my soul, too.

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The disease forced me to change the masterplan of my life, say goodbye to some hopes and ambitions. Death sneaked into my world and became a constant threat. Many times it pulled me down, many times I contemplated my fate, felt my energy fading away. Through this photo session, I want to prove to myself that I can still fight back, still feel like a real man, at home in my own skin, proud of myself. I’ve got everything to show and nothing to hide. That’s why I’m standing here, naked but not afraid.

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“One, two, three.” By now it feels like the most natural thing in the world, as if Lone and I knew each other since years. In her sensitive, female style of working, she reveals just as much of her own personality as I reveal of my body. By giving me her full attention, she slowly dives under my skin and makes me present my true self, express unfiltered and real emotions. I gradually feel my self-confidence rising to a higher level, exceeding all stages temporarily reached before through different means of psychological training or body therapy.

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“One, two, three.” I become aware of my strengths, my male sexuality, my charm, my power to attract. Something inside of me wants to shout out “Look at me, I’m the greatest man alive!” It’s a true revelation, this must be what it’s like to be enlightened. If I start to shiver, it’s not because the unheated room is rather cold. It’s rather because I feel stirred and shaken by an overwhelming experience of self-awareness and encouragement. Can we please continue, can somebody please stop the clock?

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“One, two, three.” I’m lying on my back now, closing my eyes, feeling Lone’s presence, her eyes on my skin, listening to her footsteps on the floor while she’s circling around me, searching for a different view, turning my nude body into a sculpture. She’s a true artist, playing with light and shadow, turning imagination and fantasy into visible reality, uncovering my true personality. She never acts like a distant observer, never like a shameless voyeur. Instead she’s looking under my skin, uses her camera lens to sink deep into this man’s heartland. She’s really seeing me. Seeing me through. And her pictures are brilliant. Did I mention that?

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“One, two, three.” Her voice is still present in my ear while I look at the photos. I didn’t know that I’m a star, no Hollywood celebrity could ever look better than I do in her black-and-white portraits. If I didn’t know this man so well, I guess I would fall in love with him. Obviously he’s got good reasons to be proud, obviously he’s conscious of his physical attraction, obviously he feels very much at home in his own skin. That’s a brilliant achievement, because it hasn’t been the case since quite some time.

– Karsten