Hidden in plain sight: Davide Meneghello’s Notes on a Masculine Image

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Rethinking the photobook structure, Meneghello investigates the complexity behind the homoerotic gaze

What is the male body? What image does it conjure in the mind? Since its conception, photography has lent itself to perpetuating visual tropes tied to society’s conceptions of gender. And musculature, strength, hardness, and a cold isolationism are visual signifiers of ‘masculinity’ that recur throughout history. 

London-based, Italian-born Meneghello is an artist and activist. He employs  photography, installation, and writing to delve into historical understandings of queerness, particularly the codes found throughout history that construct queer social identity. With an MA in photography from London College of Communication, Meneghello has exhibited at shows including Again He Holds Me By The Hand at JEST Fotografia, Paris Ass Book Fair at Palais de Tokyo, Writing Photographs at Tate Modern, Burning with Pleasure at Photofusion, and NeXos at Fundació La Posta.

© Davide Meneghello.

Published by 5b Publications, Meneghello’s Notes on a Masculine Image is an exercise in the art of rethinking masculinity. Through the publication, Meneghello finds new ways to view and create, dismantling the single photobook into a collection of found images, essays and prints. Meneghello displays a collection of stills, all found footage taken from vintage Super 8 bodybuilding shoots. The work is presented through a screw-bound block, animating the stills in sequence. The viewer can then reorganise the work, creating new orders. Meneghello also includes a print triptych, displaying the male form once again, caught between ecstasy and exertion. The booklet, curated by the artist, includes written contributions from Sean Burns, Alastair Curtis, and Lalu Delbracio, all providing their individual reflection on the question of masculinity.

© Davide Meneghello.

Notes on a Masculine Image plays on itself, its title referencing the seemingly impossible task of visualising masculinity. Beyond this book, countless forms of masculinity exist in both the cisgender/heterosexual world and the queer one. Here, Meneghello concerns himself with the blurred line between homoerotic sexual desire and a deeply heterosexual display of masculine prowess. The ultimate punchline of the work comes in the realisation that these two ‘versions’ of masculinity are not opposite at all, but varied interpretations of the same body.

Meneghello is also playing with the implied agency of the curator, using his role as archivist, bookmaker, and curator to position the images in a gay context. Through the customisable nature of the prints, it is up to the active viewer to determine the bodies’ order. This activity elevates the work, forcing the reader to hold an agency over the images, to become a collaborative curator in the exploration of gender and sexuality.

© Davide Meneghello.

“Photographs and films from physical culture have been a conduit for homosexual desire forever,” writes Sean Burns. “The men in Notes on a Masculine Image exhibit the profits of their labour – a sort of hyperbolic, old-fashioned and greasy muscle. Meneghello has collected multiple responses as a way of proposing that queerness can destabilise a conventional masculine ideal and transform it into a site of potential transgression.” 

Ultimately, Meneghello is not concerned with discovering what the male body is, or even what makes one queer. Instead, his interest falls in the blurred lines: the sexuality found between the black-and-white images of the male form. 

© Davide Meneghello.
Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.