Christa Blackwood: Boy Play
Christa Blackwood’s intimate series of portraits entitled Boy Play dazzles with vibrant color hues painted on the faces, arms, and torsos of her young subjects. Pinks and blues vibrate in her imagery, blurring the lines between sexual identity and binary gender norms while directly addressing long-held traditional depictions of masculinity. Using a large-format camera and film, Blackwood subverts the formal qualities of the studio portrait by introducing vivacious color and play into her practice.
Blackwood’s sensual images challenge the archaic artist/muse relationship by reversing traditional roles and power dynamics. The photographs in this series feature Blackwood’s longtime collaborators Blake, Morgan, and Richard, previously seen in the series The Boys of Collodion 2013 and Beauty Revisited 2017-2018. Although these male models collaborate to some degree in making the work, they are chosen for their age and physical attributes. However, these photographs retain a trust and vulnerability which can only come from years of working together. We use play to understand the world around us, and Blackwood’s radiant portraits gently inform us of the complexities of sexuality and the vast spectrum of gender identity.
Portraits of young men, their bodies and faces resplendently painted in hues of pink and blue. With its focus on gender and binary color coding, Boy Play playfully comments on the successes and failures of masculine masquerade. The work, shot in-camera with large-format film equipment, features Blake, Morgan and Richard—the same models I collaborated with for The Boys of Collodion, a black-and-white series of portraits from 2013 and Beauty Revisited in 2017-2018.
The project’s use of makeup and blue and pink hues was developed in response to a relationship that I had with a deeply closeted gay man. Over time, I became aware of and acquainted with, a number of closeted gay and bisexual men that present themselves as straight to the outside world, but keep their actual sexuality hidden from most people. Their public personae function as a mask allowing them to be seen in contrast to their actual selves. Obviously, sexuality is much more complicated than merely an issue of gay, bi, or straight identity. It is my hope that Boy Play represents this complexity, casting young male bodies in varying shades of color to show the blush and blur of gender and sexual identity.
Christa Blackwood is a photo, text and installation artist working with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture. Raised in Oklahoma City and New Orleans, Blackwood now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received a Master of Arts from New York University and Bachelor’s degree in Classics and Film-making from The University of Oklahoma. Blackwood has exhibited her work since the early 1990’s, most notably at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Ogden Museum, The Houston Center for Photography, The Institute of Fine Arts NYU, San Francisco City Hall and the Contemporary Austin. Her work has been featured in many publications, including The New York Times, The Chicago Sun Times, The Village Voice, Lenscratch and Art Desk Magazine.
Blackwood founded and managed The Children’s Photographic Collective, offering free/low cost photo and literacy workshops to elementary through high school students in New York City and Austin, Texas from 1995-2007.
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