One man’s project asks, if you were to use one word to define a man, what would that one word be?
What is it to be a man? This is something that has been defined and redefined for thousands of years, but the question is still as present today as it was 50, 100, 1,000 years ago. As we grow up, there is constant barrage of contradictory ideas from parents, from teachers and from television and radio of what it means to be a man. For myself, as a social worker and a therapist, this question of what it is to be a man has run through my head a million times.
One man has set out on a quest to capture as many different individuals’ ideas of what it means to be a man as he possibly can. Timothy Wenger, an electrician and photographer in Kansas City, is that man who is seeking the answer to the age old question. I was able to talk with Timothy about this project and the reason for his project #TheManEffect, and the man himself is as engaging as the question itself.
Timothy Wenger is an electrician by trade and works in the Kansas City area. Timothy told me he has been on his own journey to figure out what it means to be a man and sought to define it before the project itself ever started. Wenger told me that…
“…as an electrician I work with gruff guys and thought this is so sad, this isn’t what it means to be a man, they are broken and just playing a role.
Wenger stated that he started with his family and close friends and the project evolved to strangers as well. The process for the project is to ask the person, family or stranger, if they were able to use just one word to define a man, what that word would be. Wenger then asks them to write the word on a piece of paper and takes a photo of the person with their word and an explanation of what that word means to them, but it doesn’t stop there. Wenger gets the person’s age and profession as well, which gives the viewer more insight than many projects as far as who the person is beyond just what the photograph shows.
A great aspect of this project is the fact that the photographs Wenger is taking fly in the face of what most photographers seek to do. Many photographers seek to make a shot say what they are feeling, but Wenger’s photographs are designed to do the exact opposite. Wenger even stated:
“My problem with photography is it makes people perfect, but I want to make them human.”
The art in this project is not looking for the beauty that the world wants to see, but the reality that is in view, but that we don’t even think about. Wenger doesn’t edit the photos or create a setting, but instead takes his pictures with real people in their natural setting, because along with age and profession, it humanizes them and it is who they are.
It seems that the project has aided Wenger in his own journey as he said the project has started helping to give him the language needed for his own struggle with what it means to be a man. Timothy said that the word builder was the word that has stuck with him the most. “Builder isn’t a word I would have ever thought of to describe what it means to be a man, but when he started talking about his grandpa, I understood.”
Unedited Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army’s