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13 MEN OF CLEANING
(Honorable mention at the
17th JULIA MARGARET CAMERON AWARD
non-professional section
open theme category)

This project was conceived by chance. I wanted to test a new lens and I took some pictures of a very important man in my life. We were in his house. He was naked and had just finished to do the cleaning. I liked the portraits so much that I decided to make a series. So, I started to ask friends and acquaintances the permission to shoot them while they cleaned their homes, naked. I informed them that I would hide their face or take off their head during retouching, if necessary.

During two years I asked forty-two men. Thirty-four of them live in Marseille (France) and eight of them live in Italy. I got in touch with these men directly or through common friends.

Twenty-nine refused. Three of them were too prudish and three others did not feel concerned. One was blind and could not appreciate the result. Two of them wanted to loose weight before the shoot. One had tattoos and was horrified at the idea of being photographed but immediately found a substitute. Two of them never answered my invitation. Another considered it a mad thing, that did not suit him at all. One was interested but he ended up not posing. Another man had body image issues. One had skin problems. One did not want his girl-friend to know, so I let him go. Another changed his mind at the last moment without explaining. One does not know the reason of his refusal yet. One was too modest but so enthusiastic that he asked six of his friends. They all refused. Some thought that he was mad, the others felt too prude. One said yes to a common friend but he never answered my message. Finally, one said that ultra-feminism was

so-so, “Bof!” in french.



Thirteen men accepted my invitation. Five of them live in Bologna and eight in Marseille.

Three of them did not want to be photographed at home where their wife and children live. So, one came to do the cleaning in my house and four of them in common friends' houses.



One of these men has feminine attributes. At number thirteen I decided to stop as I am interested in the symbolical meaning of this number which embodies disorder, instability and uncertainty. The unity summed up to the number twelve indicates a rupture in the harmony: 13 is a number which breaks the balance and continuity law and obliges to a radical transformation.



At the end, I asked all the people who participated to tell me what they felt about the experience. Eleven answered and I reported the testimonials below. Since the beginning I knew that the project belonged to them and I sincerely thank them all for their generosity and for their trust in me.

I know it was not easy.

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Testimonials

«It's strange for a chaste, shy person like me ... a sensation of freedom...
This experience made me think of Serge Gainsbourg who was a timid guy until he accepted to pose naked for a photographer and so doing he felt liberated and he could easily took off his clothes afterwards. The same happened to me. Since I posed naked for you I feel better, even when walking around the house without clothes... Thank you Barbara!»

Impressions of an ordinary woman

Impressions of an ordinary woman
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some reactions

"You're lucky to have seen all these men parading... but you've tasted them all..."

(A Facebook acquaintance)

 

"I don't get naked to make myself known. Given the importance or perversion that your obsession with nudity takes I forbid you to post my nude photographs."

(Cleaner #0)

 

"Forget me! I can't understand how a woman who wants a normal life can do such a thing. You'll tell me it's art, but you have to be alone to do such things. Good luck."

(My partner at the time the project was published)

 

"Bravo, that's great! The photographs are beautiful and desecrate all the taboos built around the body and sexuality. It's convincing!"

(Séverine, friend and supporter of the project)

 

"With these portraits you try to capture male identity, which does not necessarily coincide with sex or gender.

Nudity is always the centre of interest even when the subject is on the side of the photograph. This keeps the tension alive even when sexual characters are missing.

But we know less and less about identity. There is no chance to see it clearly.

The out-of-focus, the blurred, the close-up take away any sense of certainty, disorientate the gaze. There is often a lack of convergence at a central point. The male figures stand at the sides and it is the complexity of the composition that counts. When the penis is not there, one goes looking for something else. The penis is a catalyst.

Sometimes, strong contrasts and dazzling light deform bodies. By taking away the contours of the flesh you take away its strength and the body comes out fragilised."

(One of the cleaners after viewing the photographs)

 

"This project deserves to be continued because the struggle does not stop!"

(Brigitte B.A., friend)

 

"Congratulations Barbara, you have done a disorienting job.... You are great!

Reviewing your work made me think about the importance of unhinging certain forms of meaning in which we 'swim'. Indeed, it would be interesting to investigate how much awareness we have of what belongs to us, and whether the body is one of those things; in many situations I think not."

(One of the cleaners after viewing the photographs)

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