“Figures M: Photographs,” 2003-2013
This carefully chosen collection of 28 photographs represents a span of ten years, from 2003 to 2013, a period in which Jason Langer moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. All of the models included here answered an ad posted on Craigslist seeking men comfortable being photographed among their own possessions in their own homes.
Langer’s depiction of the male nude shows a continuity with his earliest photographic studies. Invariably, his models are depicted alone. They often emerge out of shadow, exuding an air of quiet contemplation, perhaps a bit of danger. Their forms are shorn of any names or titles. But if in his earliest images Langer reveals a lack of interest in the identity of his subjects, preferring idealized silhouettes that evoke an “Everyman,” in this collection he self-consciously poses the question of whether it’s possible to puncture the veil of the ego when looking at a face.
“As a Buddhist of many years, I know that the ego is an illusion,” says Langer. “I wanted to see if it’s still possible to think about a universal person while looking into a man’s eyes.” Among the techniques he uses to explore this idea are the close cropping of the body, various degrees of soft-focus blur, in addition to the rich use of shadow. The spectator, it seems, is invited to fill in the missing details with their own imagination.
If there is a tension between the Buddhist view of the self and the visual pleasure derived from looking at the nude figure, it may also find expression here in the subversion of expectations for the male form. Langer roots his images in the classical tradition of representing the male form, selecting “slim or athletic” bodies, that in some other contexts might stand in for the heroes and gods of myth and legend, a classicizing impulse that finds its way into a small detail in one of the images; a round vase with dancing nymphs. But instead of capturing his models in moments of action or authority, he finds them in repose—reclining on a sofa, gazing out a window, balancing against a wall, slouched on the floor. These men are circumscribed by the private sphere of home and garden. “Curiously, my approach turned out to be to photograph them in typically feminine ways,” says Langer.
“There is an element of risk when you invite a stranger into your home,” he admits. “The images collected here testify to my own wish to keep a respectful distance. They recognize the precariousness of desire and the potential for violence that’s always lurking outside the frame. I was not sure whether some of these men were hoping for sex by answering my ad. Looking at the project a few years after the images were made I can feel that possibility.”
—John Hill, 2020