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REINVENTING THE SELF(IE)

The Calm Photography Movement exhibition offered a portrait of man today. Over ten days in The Getty Gallery in Soho, professional and amateur photographers exhibited work that championed creative self-expression, celebrated multiple definitions of masculinity and shone a light on its complexities and paradoxes.  

With this in mind, photographer Casey Moore decided to explore how an initiative founded in his local Sussex is helping young male ex-offenders around the country. He reinvented the selfie in the process.

Casey, what’s the story behind this photo series?

I was asked by The Calm Photography Movement founder Steve Wallington to submit some work. That was the catalyst for me to approach the charity, A Band Of Brothers with a view to discussing masculinity and manhood. ABOB was founded in my village in East Sussex. They focus on supporting 18-25 year old ex-offenders by mentoring them through mature role models and a rites of passage journey. 

So what happens at Band Of Brothers and who gets involved?

Young men are selected through the probation service if they’re deemed to be the right sort of balance in terms of age, profile and being open to the programme. While the older men and mentors volunteer and also go on a different but similar rites of passage weekend called Beyond The Hero. The younger men go on The Quest. They all go on a three-day weekend.

The details of the rites of passage are secret for good reason, you won’t find much info about what the program involves online or what the rites of passage entails, it has to be experienced without preconceptions or knowing what’s coming next. But through the course of the weekend they’re matched with mentors in a one-on-one way, and after the weekend they’ll have a 13-week mentoring cycle, as part of the condition of probation.

They also all get the opportunity to attend weekly sharing circles where they can exchange what’s really going on in their lives in a heartfelt way. They’re getting amazing results. Young men going back to the community feel much more able to assert themselves and move forward with their lives. 

How did you choose the subjects for the photos?

They’re all all men who have been A Band Of Brothers mentors. I went to three different groups in Crawley, Haringey and Brighton.

You could say you’ve reinvented the selfie. Was that your intention, to play with self-expression and identity?

You could put it that way. The concept came out of a desire to develop a photographic process that in some way gave something back to the sitter. By that I mean, I could have put myself in with a big camera and stood behind it, but that’s taking a picture rather than giving a picture. So I came up with the idea of a two-way mirror and a large format camera that sits behind the mirror, not visible. And on the other side sits the man, he can only see himself in that mirror. So it’s an opportunity for them to sit with themselves to look at their own reflection, to consider their own image. I would leave the room so they were free to do whatever in their own company.

George Blake with Mirror Lightbox set up

The camera itself is triggered by a cable release under their feet, so they’re free to use their hands, they’re free to make a gesture. They’re not looking out at an audience. Something changes once it clicks in the viewer’s mind that it’s for themselves and not a camera. Each man gets two pics only. I didn’t have any idea what had taken place until the films were developed in my darkroom. I shot 10×8 large format as I wanted there to be as much of the integrity of the person present in the final print as possible and I reversed the negatives so that we see the exact image that the subjects saw in the mirror; their mirror image.

Knowing the depths within themselves that some of these men have gone to with the Band Of Brothers, I knew they’d be particularly interesting subjects. They’ve all taken a journey into manhood. Through that context they have something powerful to say.

The concept came out of a desire to develop a photographic process that in some way gave something back to the sitter.

If you had to pick out one of the photos to tell the story behind it, which would you choose?

I only met the men very briefly but three stand out:

The first is Mark Nightingale. I know how passionate Mark is and how much he’s invested in this conversation. He’s projecting the image of an elder, of a mature, strong leader. It comes across in clothes he’s wearing and how he’s holding himself.

Then there’s Dan and Flynn. Dan is holding the ashes of his son, Flynn who was 16 when he took his own life. He would have been 30 this year. Dan has befriended something very powerful in himself with this picture. He did it to bring awareness of male suicide. On top of that he did it as a man. He wanted to do it with his top off, with nothing in the way of the image. No barriers.

Dan has conquered something in himself with this picture. He did it to bring awareness of male suicide. On top of that he did it as man. He wanted to do it with his top off. With nothing in the way of the image. No barriers.

The third image is of Ken Hinds. Ken is well-known in the London community, he’s often on hand to help young men at the moment they hit crisis. If any young men have a run in with the police, Ken will represent and advise them and negotiate on their behalf. He has no qualifications to do so as far as I know, he’s just a man with a platform in the community. I love the positivity in his photo, he’s laughing in the image. I know how much he brings to the groups with his physical presence, and his experience of what people in his community are having to deal with.

What do you think these programmes can offer society?

I’ve taken part in A Band Of Brothers, I had a mentor of my own. I’ve come to this fairly late but the transformation and self-awareness that grew out of that process was immense. We’re all now in a wider community, A Band Of Brothers. Undoubtedly that conversation, a forum, a place specifically for men, is a huge help.

There’s been discussion around the education system and how it’s predominantly run by women. Boys from 5-15 years old are possibly in an environment that doesn’t suit them. They’re being sort of pushed into a place where they’re not succeeding, quite early in life.

That’s what I think is missing: a community of men. Modern life seems to have eroded the traditions that bring men together.

I think the format of school; sitting down learning in a classroom with fairly strict rules of physical activity, has been proven to suit girls better than boys. Obviously there are some boys who succeed in that system but many don’t and they fall out of system at an early age, which can then cascade into events that don’t end well.

Very few of the men that come into contact with Band Of Brothers will have male mentors or role models in their lives, their peer group will be their only reference point.

That’s what I think is missing: a community of men. Modern life seems to have eroded the traditions that would bring men together. Some of them should not come back: war, extensive physical labour aren’t good things at all but what they did do is give men a sense purpose, of camaraderie and togetherness, which in the modern day is lacking. We need something to replace that, and that’s what a charity like A Band Of Brothers can offer. 

See the full series at caseymoore.com/man-now

Find out more about A Band Of Brothers at abandofbrothers.org.uk

See more TCPM photos on Instagram @calm_photograph_movement

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