Matthew Morrocco knows that the title of his new photo book Complicit, might be triggering to some. But the subject matter takes a word that has become synonymous with policing right-wing politics, and flips it into a moving examination of what makes us human.
Morrocco, a New York-based artist and MFA Columbia University graduate, pulled from his deeply personal life experience to create the book, which tenderly chronicles his own intimate relationships with older men from ages 20 to 25, and the relationships men who grow old together have. Answering the question of what complicity really entails, Morrocco photographs the aging male body to delve into the themes of responsibility, consent, sexual identity, and ultimately, coming to terms with one's own mortality.
The book also serves as way for Morrocco to explore what could happen to him as he ages. As we have come to more fully acknowledge since the 2016 election, older white men in particular have long been part of an unfortunate lineage of unbalanced and unchecked power affecting women and marginalized minority groups. The male emotional life, or lack thereof, has only recently felt worth deeper investigation.
Morrocco's mission to show the rich emotional lives of aging men (regardless of race) through thoughtfully rendered photographs is less a statement of sexuality, and more an attempt to show men as whole beings; as people who experience tenderness and affection, despite a greater societal pressure to conceal emotional vulnerability.
"I wanted to show a soft side of older men in the hope it might inspire a more comprehensive overhaul of what being 'male' can mean," Morrocco tells PAPER. The 74 pages of Complicit work to do just that, with Morrocco noting that he began this process for himself, but also in observing his grandfather's later years, who died at age 95.
PAPER caught up with Morrocco to talk through the challenges and triumph of making his book. Read, below, and check out a selection of 15 portraits from Complicit, which you can purchase here.
What specifically drew you to the portrait subjects of older gay men? Why do you feel it's important to highlight them?
I wanted to make emotionally vulnerable portraits and intimate scenes of older men. I think most older men cut themselves off from emotional intimacy, especially when it comes to their relationships with themselves. I wanted to show a soft side of older men in the hope it might inspire a more comprehensive overhaul of what being "male" can mean. As well, in many ways I started making this work for my grandfather, who was learning to face his own mortality at age 75 when his mother died in 2010 at age 95. It is a difficult thing to face — aging, death, and the late stages of life so intimately. I believe it's important that more people consider this perspective more seriously.
"It is a difficult thing to face — aging, death, and the late stages of life so intimately... it's important that more people consider this perspective more seriously."
Tell us about the specific techniques you used to frame these men.
I was looking to the visual language of past artists. Everything from Velazquez who played with the placement of himself within his painting Las Meninas, to Ingre and Courbet's representation of feminine sexuality, to Lucien Freud who made intimate portraits of lovers and families that were complex and layered. I wanted to expand on and look through the history of portraiture and visual language in order to make work that expanded what has been as well as inspire what will be.
What did you learn about them/from them while shooting them?
That all men need emotional training. A lot of men, especially those that I included in this book, were kind, open, and excited to work with me on a project. Some of them were more complicated. It was a long process of figuring out how best to represent these people with strength and dignity while navigating unwanted sexual advances and often being misunderstood by peers and colleagues.
What did you learn about yourself in this process? How did shooting these subjects affect or change you and/or your art-making practice?
I spend a lot of time trying to answer that question. Mostly, I think I learned that I am also implicated, or rather, "Complicit," in many of the things I sought to negate and "fix" by making these photographs. That I too struggled to view the older male body as appealing and not difficult to look at. I spent a lot of time with these people and I realized that real relationships, emotional vulnerability takes a great deal of effort and work. There is no easy way to make something that is true and real and finding that courage, strength and sincerity in yourself is earned through hard work and dedication. Being well regarded within your chosen profession is never a birthright and more people, especially men, need to know that.
Photography: Matthew Morrocco