Joseph D. R. OLeary | Of Beards and Men

July 3 - August 22, 2015

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Krishna
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Christopher
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Jake
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Justin
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Kevin
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Logan
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Mike
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Nicholas
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Nick
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Ryan
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Sam
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Sam Z
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Charles
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Doug
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Eli
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Grant
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Gregory
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Jimmy
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Justin
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Landon
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Ledo
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Marc
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Mark
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Michael
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Nellie
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Okan
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Travis
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Wade
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Installation Image by Sunshine Divis
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Installation Image by Sunshine Divis

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PROJECT STATEMENT
In January 2012, I embarked on a project to self-publish a book of photographs of men who wear facial hair. I sought to explore society’s current fascination with defining masculinity. I see men pushing their own limits to define who they are as individuals and to create personas in reaction to male stereotypes and expectations.
As a photographer, I have often turned to myself as the subject of my work. In self-portraits, I explore my own identity and create personas that I feel I play in my own life. Each portrait illuminates and amplifies some element of who I am. I find great comfort in this focused process of self-exploration.
The facial hair project pushes me out of this comfortable position. Rather than exploring my own personas, I am exploring personas created by others. Seeking subjects outside myself allows me to put my own personas in context with those of other men.
Over the course of 20 months, I invited 150+ bearded men to my studio. Few of these men had ever stood in front of a camera for a professional portrait. Getting them to let down their barriers was both challenging and extremely rewarding.
I wanted to create portraits that both felt inspired and defined some element of each man’s personality. My early subjects were tightly cropped; in general, the images were flat and came across as a style guide for facial hair. I was dissatisfied. I began to pull back and, as I physically showed more of each person, the images grew into a much more interesting study of each man as an individual. Ultimately, the images became a visual record of masculinity in contemporary society.