I discovered the work of Jordan Baumgarten through Take/Aim, an exhibition in collaboration between Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art and the Northlight Gallery at Arizona State University that was on view this past fall. Included in the exhibition with Baumgarten were some artists I admire, Jesse Burke, Erika Larsen, Brian Lesteberg, Jason Vaughn, and others I hope to feature soon. Baumgarten’s work explores notions of contemporary American masculinity. I was attracted to his photographs in the series Average Americans of the Right Type, depicting various staples of hunting culture, for their tranquility and unobtrusiveness – qualities unexpected in a picture of a practice so typically associated with “manliness.”
From a statement by the artist, via Fraction Magazine: “Average Americans of the Right Type” is a photographic investigation of masculinity. The title is borrowed from Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography, specifically the chapter “In Cowboy Land,” which is largely devoted to his time spent in the American West. While there, he experiences the ruggedness of the frontier, which furthers his ongoing preoccupation with the construction of masculinity. Throughout his life, Roosevelt sought out and advocated for specific manly acts — things the right type of man would do.
I make photographs that illustrate masculine ritual in the Roosevelt mold, the outdoorsmen’s perspective and experiences, interaction with nature, and community. I don’t photograph grand vistas with men on horseback overlooking valleys. Rather, I see pickup trucks parked in the woods; I see the way a man climbs up a frosty hill with his hunting dogs; I see the warmth emanating as you return home from a winter’s day hike. These are not the glorified aspects of manliness; they are the foundation upon which that glory is built.
I acknowledge that Roosevelt’s and my own notion of manliness is looked upon as being old-fashioned. This romanticized construction of what it once meant to be a real man, with the idea of the right type so narrowly defined, gives me a framework in which to explore my own masculine identity and expectations. I can then begin to ask myself, What makes a man, and what kind of man am I?
Visit artist's site: jordanbaumgarten.com