A Conversation with Jaap de Jonge. What state is the social emancipation of gay men in the Netherlands in? This is the opening question of the blurb of photographer Jaap de Jonge’s book Kijk mij eens! (Look at Me!), recently published by Gallery MooiMan in Groningen.
In September, an interesting report of the Netherlands Center for Social Development Movisie appeared. In the report, researchers concluded that paying attention to homosexuality does not automatically mean this will have a positive effect on its acceptance. Sometimes continuously talking about homosexuality can have adverse effects. According to the report, it is much better to develop methods in which people can empathize with gay characters in film or theater. Researcher Hanne Felten: “Playing your cards on empathy, people’s feelings, encounters less resistance than the transfer of knowledge. You do not find yourself discussing and expressing opinions as quickly, but bring the theme closer to home.”
“This playing on empathy is exactly my line of approach in my book,” Jaap says. “This series of a hundred portraits is about ‘ordinary’ men, however you want to interpret this concept. Men who lead ordinary lives, have more or less regular jobs, but who lead their lives and exercise their professions openly gay. Men who could be your neighbor or colleague - men who you feel sympathy for when you read their stories. I want to show that a lot of gay men can be perfectly fine role models for young people.”
How did the book come into being?
“I wanted to do ‘something’ with the visibility of gay men. I interviewed and photographed one hundred gay men between March 2014 and July 2015. As guiding principle for the conversations, I chose their passions. A passion is something you go for all the way, with all your heart and soul. This way, you get to the core of their personality. For a large part of the interviewed men, their coming out was not always easy, nor self-evident. A large part was previously married to a woman, and in some cases they had children. Often, the underlying problem was related to strict faith, growing up in a small rural community, or fear of the family’s reaction or reactions at work. Many of these men only came ‘out of the closet’ at a later age. I also met men who were not really happy with their homosexuality, who would have preferred to be straight.”
Did everyone agree to participate immediately?
“Yes, it looks that way. A lot of men were very enthusiastic from the beginning, which really motivated me to pursue this. But of course, I also got the brush-off. Men who initially agreed, withdrew for rather ‘nebulous’ reasons. Others, mostly young people, suddenly didn’t stay in touch. That’s a shame, but also somewhat understandable. People’s enthusiasm sometimes is bigger than the rational awareness of possible consequences of being part of a book with your story and your picture in it.”
The book contains one hundred portraits with text and a picture. What portrait is your most special one?
“I can’t say. All portraits are special, just because of the fact that so many ‘ordinary’ men openly and with honesty go public. But among them, there are some gripping portraits. For instance with stories about the humiliation of young children in the Roman-Catholic church in the 1950s, and stories about an upbringing in a strictly Calvinist setting. Touching stories of men who traded in their traditional family life for the freedom to be who they are, with sometimes dramatic effects - for example not being in touch with children or grandchildren. But there are also many ‘happy’ stories. Men with wonderful and interesting professions, artists making beautiful things. Men who are actively working on the emancipation of homosexuals, for example in the care for elderly, often a big problem, or are working on the acceptance of homosexuality in sports, for example former professional soccer player Wensley Garden.”
Jaap de Jonge is mostly an art photographer. Is there any common ground between your art photos and this project?
“Yes and no. In my art photography, I’m mostly looking for
men’s vulnerability. Not the macho nor the fitness model, but ‘ordinary’ men who want to show their vulnerability in their nudity, also with other men, and who are not afraid to share their feelings in their weakness and loneliness. In that respect, there is common ground. It is very funny that some of the interviewed men expected that they would be portrayed in the nude, having seen my website. Some of them were even extremely disappointed not be photographed in the nude. I make most art photos in my studio, but for this project I chose to portray them in their own living environment. Clothing and interior are an essential part of the portrait, because often they also represent someone’s personality.”
What do you wish to accomplish with the book?
“With this book, I want to make a small step in the direction of more acceptance of homosexuality in society. Because of all these special men I have interviewed and photographed, I now have a means of showing society that gay men are also regular guys, with their daily lives, their emotions, their creativity and their social engagement...”
“In conclusion, I want to quote Boris Dittrich, who wrote the foreword to the book as Advocacy Director LGBT Rights Program of Human Rights Watch: ‘I hope this book will become a kind of salon table book for other people to look at and perhaps get inspired by, or perhaps they will draw strength from the stories of these one hundred men.’ In other words: I hope this book finds its way, not only in gay circles, but in particular with straight readers, as it is mostly meant for them. I want to show them that we are here, and that they have nothing to fear from us.”
MooiMan’s Books About Male Art
The book “Kijk mij eens!” is already the eighth book published by gallery MooiMan Male Art. Since the founding of the gallery, the owners have almost yearly edited, designed and published a book. These books not only show the male in art, but often also supply a social context. An example is the publication “Asylum” by the Russian artist Alexander Kargaltsev, who flew from his native country, about Russian GLBT asylum seekers in the USA; this book was published during the Holland-Russia Year 2013. And everything about the tension between the Vatican and the opening of marriage to same-sex couples, about homosexuality in Italy, and the Vatican’s injunction to show a GLBT photography project, can be checked in “Sí, quièro” by the Spanish artist Gonzalo Orquin.
The gallery owners were of old involved with the “Flikkeragenda” (Faggots’ Calendar) and afterwards for many years responsible for its successor, the “Homogenda” (Gay Calendar). These books were showcases of male art for many artists, such as a young Erwin Olaf in old volumes of the “Flikkeragenda.”
Shortly the successor to these calendars will appear, “Your Daily Male 2016” – the world’s very first full color block-calendar with male art, presenting works by fifty-two artists.