Relaxed and non-aggressive aren’t normally the expressions on the faces of tough wrestlers, but what about when they aren’t in a match? Luke Underwood, a former wrestler himself, found an interest in portraying male wrestlers after practice.
“I had been shooting the action of practice, but I didn’t find it to be interesting beyond a Sports Illustrated-type photo, where it was all about the sport. I was more interested in what they wanted to show me in the slow process of the portrait. . . . They started off initially with their stances and facial expressions much more stern,” explains Underwood.
His work over the past year has had to do with masculinity and how it is represented in photographs. Underwood has documented his contemporaries, other artists, and friends displaying the ways they may not be in the same phase of adulthood as their fathers were at the same age. Continuing to explore the idea of masculinity, he found an interest in making portraits of wrestlers.
He says that the point of wrestling is not necessarily to be the best wrestler but rather to test yourself and persevere. It was difficult initially for the wrestlers to pose in a way that did not aim to affirm their toughness further.
“I was trying to get at the idea of showing them as something more than what they were doing as performers on the mat,” says Underwood.
He had to balance what they were trying to get across with what he wanted to get out of them. His aim was for them to look softer than how most people would think of them. After continuing to photograph them, he says they began to grow more comfortable and their faces began to soften. As a result, the photographs carry striking truths about masculinity and self-perception.
Underwood’s photographs will be on display at the “Master of Fine Arts Degree Candidates Exhibition” at the Georgia Museum of Art from April 11 to May 3, 2015.