New York based artist Ron Amato has been taking photos all his life, inspired by fashion and portraiture from iconic figures in the industry like Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe and Francesco Scavullo.
Much of Amato’s work focuses on the male form. Now he has created a series of unique and visually arresting images. His photo project “The Box” is simultaneously bizarre, sexy and distressing, with musclebound subjects crammed claustrophobically into confined wooden crates.
“Boxes trap, boxes hide, boxes protect,” he says “You receive gifts in boxes. We’re told to ‘think outside the box’ but Pandora had a box.”
It’s a daring and contradictory approach to art. Stereotypically, art is about freedom, expanse and wide thought. Amato has turned those concepts on their head. It makes sense then, that the creative process was gradual and unconventional.
“The project developed slowly,” says Amato “I analyzed each shoot, looking for clues that evoke emotions associated with my journey, and learning how they related to each other. I used old boxes that showed signs of damage from age and use. I constructed new boxes, at first raw and unfinished, then adding finish in stages until the imperfections were almost eliminated.”
Amato purposefully used a diverse range of models, of different generations and backgrounds. It adds texture and interest to the piece, giving each box more of a story and context.
“These images represent a collaboration with over thirty men. They reflect a diversity of ages, cultures, races and lifestyles. We started each shoot discussing the themes of the project, and what I was trying to communicate.”
He got the models involved in a very special way, asking them to interact with the box impulsively, in whatever mood took them. And intriguingly, the feel of the shot changed when he put people who knew each other together.
“We started each shoot discussing the themes of the project and what I was trying to communicate. Initial images involved interacting with a box, each collaborator bringing their own voice to the project. It was very much like a performance, each bringing a unique physicality to the project.”
“The dynamics shifted as I choreographed the interactions, putting together men who were strangers, lovers, husbands, friends and coworkers. I only intervened if I could encourage deeper exchange and exploration. As the project progressed, I was able to refine my communication with model to get very specific results, having found words to reflect ideas that resonated with me since the beginning of the project.”
Like all art, “The Box” is open to interpretation. An obvious conclusion to come to from a gay angle, would be that it represents how we’re all put in a box, by society and the people who know us. On a deeper level, it could be about how we’re still trapped and constrained by attitudes towards our sexuality, or even by ourselves.
“Interpretation of images is personal,” explains Amato “What one might see as conflict, another might view as connection. There is a fine line between isolation and longing. Community often grows out of desire. Processes are fluid and oftentimes nonlinear. Yet, no matter how expressed, the struggled of betterment are deeply felt by us all, regardless of the distinctions of our own stories.”
“Most of my artwork explores issues of sexuality. The enigma of attraction has been an ongoing question. With The Box, I was able to explore those themes more deeply, helping me develop a better understanding of myself as gay man and the larger gay universe. Getting to know my collaborators, and seeing the dynamics between them, has enlightened me to the diversity of human experience within a specific demographic. I therefore see myself in a different light, both as part of that group and as an individual. I feel a bond with the men who are part of this project, as they embody parts of my own self-discovery. I can move on from many of the questions that have puzzled me in the past. However, attraction still remains an enigma, maybe now more than ever.
• “The Box” is set for release in November, in the form of a photobook. To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign which is helping to fund the project, head to kickstarter.com/projects/1292010249/the-box-2