I already mentioned this photography series in an earlier article about Johan van Walsem and so far I had only seen them as small prints in his portfolio.
The three photos of the series „Paul & I“ – two in color, one in black and white – show two man. The photographer himself hidden behind another man, Paul. Theme is the conflict of religion and homosexuality. Are you „allowed“ to be gay if you grew up religious?
But let us have a look at the first photo – a double portrait.
In this double portrait which actually only has one man in focus, Paul, the first thing I see is the red color fabric. And I directly connect it to church, also in the way it is wrapped around part two that I see – a man with wide open blue eyes and a light blue shirt. He is wearing the fabric like a a bishop would. But after that the second figure, the photographer himself, is visible. You only see his hair behind the other man and his hands. What you might expect to be the hands of the man in the blue shirt are van Walsems hands. So he is holding and protecting Paul while he is covered in red fabric. This has such a big religious connotation to me, also because the main figure is not having hair like he was shaved for a religious introduction ritual.
On the second photo you get clear hints to the religious theme:
Again you see a central figure, Paul, in his blue short but now praying with closed eyes while the photographer is standing behind him wearing the red bishop coat and lifting his right hand to bless the viewer. But he is not looking at us, because his face is still hidden behind the other mans head. And due to him having his eyes closed and being occupied with his own prayers, the idea of blessing is becoming absurd.
The third photo is black and white.
Because of that the color is no longer important, but the form – and the form of the fabric reminds of the hats a nun would wear. Now we also see a clear symbol of religion: the cross around the neck of Paul. He is still central figure and the photographer is almost completely hidden under the fabric. All you can see of him are his armpits and still on the first quick look you might have the illusion of one figure. That is the interesting thing about these photographs – if you look quickly you might think of portraits of a young man who decides to go to a monastery, who chose to join a religious group and will now go out into the world. But if you look closely you can always make out the second figure, the taller figure, the figure covering Paul, the man protecting Paul, the man embracing Paul, father like, but the same age (as you can see in the little details as his hands and arms and hair).
I really like those three photos as they give me an idea of what is written about Johan van Walsem, about his religious background, about how he grew up and that he is this earlier work, is the one holding to his roots, he is the religious part, he his the father figure, protecting and blessing while the other man, Paul, needs that protection, even closes his eyes. And if you now look at his new work again you can see the step out of that, he is growing, he is confronting us with with sexuality and there is no need for a father figure anymore.
The photos were taken from Studio Johan Fotografie on Facebook