A pioneer in the field of self-portraiture, the British-born artist John Coplans (1920–2003, UK) deliberately jettisoned conventional ideals of youthful male beauty, when he began forensically photographing his own ageing body in the mid-1980s.
Replete with wiry pubic hair, deflated buttocks and sagging pectorals, Coplans presents an image of the male figure as imperfect and ‘soft’. Through his black-and-white self-portraits which home in on fragments of the body, Coplans reveals the white male as someone who is not necessarily powerful and strong, but as someone who is also human and vulnerable. By photographing his body in the later years of his life, Coplans confronts issues of ageing and deterioration, subjects generally ignored and feared in contemporary society.
What does it mean to be a man today? The Barbican's Masculinities: Liberation through Photography considers how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day.