At the forefront of changing how our world views masculinity are those who create imagery of it.
Filmmakers, television writers, photographers, and other multimedia professionals are beginning to shift how they explore and present masculinity in their work, and companies are following. One of the companies using their brand to help shift societal norms is Getty Images.
In Masculinity Undone, stereotypical “tough guy” and “incompetent dad” imagery is exchanged for photos that show the wide array of the male experience.
From male friendships, to loving partners, to unadulterated boyhood joy — men and boys in these photos are diverse, vulnerable, and utterly themselves.
Andrew Delaney, director of content at Getty Images, sees the project not only as a unique venture in the company’s body of work, but a necessary action to change the perceptions of manhood in the photography and advertising industry.
“We can’t be what we can’t see,” Delaney says. “We definitely are in a position and stand behind the fact that we have to expand the visual narrative of what men look like, and about how men are perceived. I think that opens the door for as many diverse identities [as there are] that actually exist.”
Getty’s new imagery is extremely important, as the state of manhood in America is in a particularly challenging moment.
Men are dying by suicide 3.53 times more often than women, 94% of mass shootings have been carried out by men, and domestic violence from men in relationships continues to be a pervasive issue around the world.
And yet, the photos from this series show that this narrative is changing, in part thanks to men saying enough is enough, and to companies that are making new imagery a priority. And, according to Getty, the world is yearning for the content.
This year at the company, searches for “mental health awareness,” “man meditation,” and “gay dads” are up 258%, 126%, and 53%, respectively.
“Our clients are looking for content that will speak to groups in a very authentic manner, and you can’t speak to a group of guys who happen not to be super masculine in the traditional sense if you don’t have images that reflect them,” Delaney says.
As society explores the complexity of masculinity — from fatherhood to friendships to sexuality — change starts with building spaces that allow men to be fully human.
Spaces that will allow men to feel comfortable enough to break away from tropes like “the tough guy” and expectations that “boys don’t cry” — traditions that have pigeonholed men in the past, and contributed to the toxicity seen today.
Many companies, artists, and organizations are leaning into creating such spaces. Actor Justin Baldoni has spoken candidly about the importance of deviating from toxic masculinity to be a better man and father. Rapper Jay-Z used much of one of his most recent album’s, “4:44”, to talk about masculinity’s role in his marriage and relationships with women. And, in the wake of another mass shooting carried out by a man, Michael Ian Black penned an essay about our culture’s imperative need to shift how we raise boys and our expectations for men.
Men deserve, and need, to express it all: love, heartache, joy, and pain, and as openly as they want.
“If you were to go back 15 years, and if you looked at the world through the eyes of stock photography, you’d think that we were all Caucasian, and we were all blonde and we all had blue eyes,” Delaney says. “The fact is that, by changing what we ask our photographers to create, by asking for diversity across the board — that’s diversity of age, diversity of skin color, diversity of sexual orientation — it means that we drive change in the images that our photographers are shooting.”
By ensuring that this value is reflected in the media world, we contribute to a culture that allows manhood to exist without the toxicity that society previously placed on it.