Artist James Higginson, who originates from Los Angeles and has been living in Berlin since 2004, made his name primarily with perfectly staged photographs. Staging images is his special- ty within the domain of art photography.
In the exhibition Behold, curated by Enno Kaufhold for the HAUS am KLEISTPARK, the focus lies on images of men. The exhibited images come from various recent photographic series with a number of the images shown here for the first time. The images are formulated from a wide range of perspectives.
There are the perspectives of the men themselves, who see themselves as men and therefore as masculine, there is society, which fosters its particular notion of the male – drawn from many dif- ferent sources – and finally there is the artist James Higginson, who has his own personal image of men.
The projection of masculinity is therefore open to interpretation and changes from series to se- ries. This allows him to adopt ways of seeing that could also belong to a younger man, whose understanding of gender roles may not yet be fully set: also explaining the exhibition’s subtitle, “Perspectives at play in a young man’s mind”.
The resulting images, as with all work by Higginson, spring from his imagination but also reflect interpretations of reality that include contemporary changes. For what is projected or considered masculine is undergoing a dialectic transformation along with what is projected or considered feminine. The reflection of the sum of exhibition images reflects these gender discussions as well as the emancipation of the homosexual, the transsexual or the transvestite and serves to give a liberalization of the male gender a clear and artistic appearance.
In the series providing our title, Behold (2010/2011), James Higginson – with an obvious refer- ence to Man Ray’s Le Violin d ́Ingres showing the nude back view, used black paint to depict a waist suggesting the female on the backs of the men he photographed. Here, the erotically con- noted female is merged with the more robust male profile.
Making references to early plein-air motifs as well as images from the culture of nudity, in the se- ries Interlude (2004/2010) he photographed naked men in various Berlin lake landscapes. The men adopt poses reminiscent of earlier female as well as male nude portraits within an Arcadian ambience.
In the series Hollywood Dresses (2008) James Higginson invited men to participate, portraying them directly after putting on original Hollywood B-movie women’s dresses (20’s-90’s era) over their own clothing. It was a gender role game with visible uncertainties, for the clothing, unfamiliar to the men, had an immediate effect on their body language. As a variation of this series James Higginson photographed the men wearing the dresses leaping, i.e., showing expressive move- ment (2009).
In contrast to these staged series, that only indirectly reflected real gender role shifts, the por- traits for the series Goths, which Higginson shot during a Gothic festival in Leipzig in 2009 make concrete reference to a change that can be observed in reality. His portraits, always taken in front of the same backdrop, reminiscent of Victor Vasarely’s Op Art, show in a representative way – this time without staged expressiveness – how a younger mind set consciously oppose mainstream pressures toward a norm while simultaneously cultivating their own specific, extreme style codes.
The blurring of a traditional image of the man is the dominant theme running through these se- ries, whereas in two other series by James Higginson, he clearly shifts the emphasis to the ste- reotypical concept of man as fighter. In the earlier series Maneuver (2001), for example, he used common children’s toy soldiers, although the soldiers display different national characteristics through their uniforms. The digital manipulation of the analogue image by mixing the positive- negative, lend abstracting features to his colored images, and so point to combat as such but exclude the closer references to concrete battles. These images are about combat as a funda- mental phenomenon. The appearance of the men equipped with primeval weapons and wearing the culturally authentic costumes for the series Black Shields (2012/2014) is far more concrete. Higginson reproduced the young men in scenes depicting traditional locations and shot the im- ages during his recent visits to Georgia.
All these formal series of images, staged and clearly delineated in their use of light, are permeat- ed by both reality and fiction. They reflect a role of men and allow us to recognize that our socie- ties, while becoming increasingly international, are moving towards fundamental changes and occasionally towards future perspectives in their once set male roles, both individually and collec- tively. Dr. Enno Kaufhold
James Higginson (1957, Pittsburgh) graduated with a Bachelor degree in biology from Pennsyl- vania State University, attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and completed a Master in Fine Arts at Claremont Graduate University in California. Until 2007 he worked in Los Angeles as an art director and set-decorator for film and television (Emmy Award 1987). His pho- tographic debut was in 2003, at C/O Berlin with the solo exhibition Portraits of Violence. Since 2004 he has lived and worked as an artist, filmmaker (Avonbiehl UG), performer and teacher in Berlin. He has had various solo and group exhibitions in the USA, Asia and Europe. Since 2006 he has been lecturing as adjunct faculty at the Berlin University of Art and Design (BTK) and has also held workshops internationally.
Enno Kaufhold (curator of the exhibition) works as a freelance photo historian, curator, publicist and teacher in Berlin. His most recent work as a curator was „Die Bielefelder Schule. Fotokunst im Kontext“ in Bielefeld.