Symbols of Masculinity, Subverted: Jeremy Chandler's “Prone Positions” at Fred Giampietro

From military servicemen to hunters wielding rifles, the photographer works with a set of subjects that many of us only have contact with around the holidays. Waiting in the airport for your connecting flight, you’re likely to notice at least one twentysomething soldier in camouflage cargo pants and heavy boots, getting priority boarding and a tip of the hat from the pilot; once you get to your destination, if it’s anywhere even remotely rural, you’ll see the hunters’ reflective orange jackets standing out against the snow on an early morning drive. Chandler focuses his lens on these figures—symbols of a certain kind of all-American masculinity, men that are, at turns, deeply respected and cruelly vilified in the press and in pop culture—and expresses their meaning through the filter of his own experience.
Though Chandler may not identify himself as part of the population he’s portraying, his perspective belies his background—he’s a relatively young male himself, a native Floridian who received his BFA from the University of Florida and his MFA from the University of South Florida. He knows these fields and streams, and the men who tread through them. As Chandler says, “I construct images by repurposing methods utilized by hunting and military culture, turning otherwise weaponized techniques into benign aesthetic devices. I activate spaces that are typically already known to me, through the introduction of people, found and homemade props, and cinematic methods of storytelling.” While much of his work and portraiture is fairly literal, capturing hunters with guns or soldiers sitting by a campfire, the selected works on display this month at Fred.Giampetro Gallery’s 315 Peck Street space in New Haven are examples of a subtler approach to the same theme.
The show’s title, “Prone Positions,” is a nod to the artist’s gun-toting subjects, but you won't see any guns—or any actual men—in these photos. There’s no figure at all in Blind and Smoke (2013), just a rustic hunting shelter and a faintly mysterious puff of smoke. In Ghillie Suit (Weeds) (2013), a human-like figure in a snow-covered landscape is covered in straw and weeds. The series—playing with the idea of a ghillie suit, or a camouflage outfit, favored by snipers and hunters, that’s meant to resemble heavy foliage—takes on an almost romantic feel in Ghillie Suit 2 (Flowers) (2011) and Ghillie Suit 3 (Flowers) (2011). Strewn with wildflowers, standing in picturesque fields that look straight out of storybooks, these images are both pretty and subversive. Maybe it’s exactly the fact that they’re pretty—while being expressions of conventional masculinity, of men’s pursuits and pastimes, that makes Chandler’s work so subtly subversive.
 —Bridget Gleeson
Prone Positions” is on view at Fred.Giampetro Gallery, 315 Peck Street Gallery, New Haven, November 21st – December 20th, 2014.