Plan américain

Scarlett Coten

2017 - Ongoing

United States

Plan Américain is the second part of a larger study on the complexities of contemporary masculinity. A prolongation of the work initiated in the Arab world, this ongoing project is devoted to a new territory: the United States. The ambition of this body of work is to question critical topics such as the notion of gender and identity. This central question about who is looking at who also raises questions on the necessity of alternative viewpoints, the notion of otherness, and empower the female gaze.

The question of individual liberties - the will to be oneself - at the core of my approach in an Arab world then shaken by the so-called "Arab Spring" (Mectoub 2012/2016), actually appears no less relevant in a nation in crisis since the last presidential elections.

As the newest wave of feminism has galvanized women to rethink their place in society, the flip side feels just as urgent to address: What does it mean to be a man today?

In the New York Times, a weeklong series centered around this "urgent question in the era of Parkland, President Trump, and #MeToo", recently sparked quite a conversation, in particular about the urgent need since the election at the head of the country of a "model of masculinity that worries and frightens", of a redefinition of gender.

Michael Ian Black, in an article titled “The Boys Are Not All Right” states the fact that even if rigid gender roles are restrictive for everyone, redefining them has been mostly a one-sided effort. Women spent the last 50 years tackling womanhood stereotypes but there has been no similar debate on what it means to be a man.

"America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us. The past 50 years have redefined what it means to be female in America. To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms, and expressions. Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender… America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us…I think we would benefit from the same conversations girls and women have been having for these past 50 years. I would like men to use feminism as an inspiration, in the same way, that feminists used the civil rights movement as theirs. We have to start the conversation."

Since 2012 I have been challenging visual stereotypes of masculinity, taking part in what is now a global conversation on a crucial topic. Today's America is the subject of my focus since 2017, which will culminate in a series of intimate portraits of the America I have encountered through strangers who have crossed my path. At each stop, I choose men on instinct and invite them to pose. The shots are most often fixed the next day and I always photograph subjects who are invested in this project, choosing specific locations for this experience to unfold.

By focusing on beauty and the vulnerabilities of a gender constrained by the stereotypical expectations of a now contested model of manhood, my empathic exploration of the many shades of masculinity, strives to remove any cliché or stigma of sensitivity, reimagining gendered identity for today’s world.

The aesthetics of the road trip is nevertheless present. The natural decors can be watched in every image as a portion of the American landscape. These fragments of landscape or settings - crossings of a fantasy and a reality that comes to collide with it - testify in their interlacing, of the experience of the road trip, to finally offer a representation of Trump's (dis)United-States.

In a world where showing vulnerability is stigmatized and deemed unmanly, it is crucial to disrupting reductive gender stereotypes towards a broader, more inclusive concept of masculinity. This body of work, which is empathetic, by revealing through a feminist exploration, the search for identity of these men photographed, is joining the defense of "modern-day modern men" whose emergence probably have something to do with the current policy.

About the title:

The "Plan Américain", as French directors call it, refers to a specific way of framing movies, developed for westerns. It allows viewers to see a character from head to mid-thighs and comes from the necessity to include the character’s gun usually located below the belt, in the shot. Particularly praised by French directors, it brings us closer to the subject, whilst showing his or her background. A confrontational perspective, it allows for greater proximity between the viewer and the character. The word "plan," included in the French title, also translates into rendez-vous – the ones I have with the men I choose to photograph.

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