Jo Duck is a Melbourne photographer who has worked across fashion editorial and commercial photography, scoring placements in Harpers Bazaar, Monocle and i-D, among others. She’s also my sister and, truth be told, she’d be nowhere without me. It all started when she took photos of local rappers for my early-00s hip-hop magazine Out4Fame. Now she’s out there travelling the globe with a rep as a photographer with a masterful control of lighting and a strong streak of unique personality across her portfolio. But don’t let her forget it all started with documenting rap battles in a Fitzroy pub.
Jo’s new series Romantic Boys will be featured at Melbourne’s CCP from August 15. The series blends still and moving portraits to explore the contradictory nature of how we talk about masculinity. To get a little background info, Jo and I talked about silk shirts and 2Pac.
What prompted this idea?
Grossly, it was someone I went to highschool with. We were in year nine, so, everyone was like 14, and he was a very developed 14 year-old; He used to wear his shirt a little bit unbuttoned so he could show everyone his hairy chest, he wore a gold chain, and he always had really wet lips. He would come up to any girl, no matter what they were doing and be like ‘hey baby what’s wrong?’
And you’d be like ‘nothing, I’m just buying a hot dog’. And then you’d just watch him go from girl to girl to girl and wait for that line to work.
I started thinking about sleaziness, but then I developed it into a more positive series. But I kept elements of gold chains and wet lips and silkiness. The cliches of a sleazy romantic dude.
Do you think it’s a weird time to?
Right. In the media, and in our lives in general, we’re certainly more aware of not only slimy sexual predators but also the impact of toxic masculinity. It’s an interesting concept that you’ve explored; this weird meeting place of the best and the worst of masculinity.
Although this idea has kind of a gross beginning, I wanted to change it into a more positive thing. It’s a celebration of men who love to love. But then the more that I developed the idea, the more I was looking at how people project their masculinity.
Obviously, I’m not a man, and so I’m looking at this completely from an outsider’s perspective, but looking at the tropes of masculinity throughout 20th-century pop culture references, the references that I grew up with.
I guess the masculine tropes can be seen in both negative and positive ways. Like the hairy chest is obviously just a physical, virile element of masculinity, but then things like fast cars, tattoos and cowboys are supposed to be really tough and hard, and then, the sleazy elements are coming from the romantic side which is combining the hardest of the hard, like a John Wayne type but then soft, champagne and roses and nobody actually wants John Wayne in a bubble bath.
How are modern men supposed to be that height of masculinity, the ‘strong silent type’ but then talk about their feelings? It’s just a contradiction of what we’ve been sold. And so I’m just exploring that visually. And because I’m combining the hardest with the softest, it’s coming together quite tongue in cheek and a bit sleazy.
Speaking of the humour – If I were an outsider to art and photography, and I saw your work and appreciated the humour, which other artists would you recommend I look at?
Marton Perlaki, I think his work is quite funny. Johnny Dufort. Martin Parr is a classic, humourous photographer. Marton Perlaki and Johnny Dufort are more modern contemporary photographers, and they’re both shooting fashion, whereas Martin Parr did like social commentary and documentary. But I think casting guys who aren’t necessarily like, studs. Or, mixing some studs with some regulars, is something that fashion is moving towards. It’s becoming more diverse, it’s becoming more inclusive and you’re starting to see more regular people dressed in high fashion. That’s something I’ve noticed and responded to in Marton Perlaki’s work.
So you’ve been able to draw inspiration from those people?
When I shoot fashion I usually work from a moodboard, I have a concept and look at other shoots and film and get references from a whole bunch of stuff, mix it together and create my own interpretation and my own story out of it. Whereas with this shoot it was more instinctive, I knew what I wanted to shoot, I didn’t have to reference anything. This sleaziness is just inherent.
If 2Pac were available to model for this series, how would you have styled him?
It’d be backwards on a chair, for sure. Maybe on a beach, backwards on a chair. 2Pac is an interesting one because he does have the hard and the soft, out in public. Both elements, already on show. What a beautiful modern man. RIP.
If you were to shoot him, you could decide to either show a softer side of a hard man, or a harder side of a soft man?
Yea, he embodies both. And there are some incredible shots of him in silk shirts from the ‘90s. But also with the spectacles, so he looks smart.
There was a lot of silk shirt inspiration in hip-hop too; Drake is often photographed in a silk shirt. A lot of wind machines and silk shirts in 90s R&B and hip-hop videos. And silk shirts were some of the original inspiration for this shoot. The first shoot that I did for it was a model named Boki. I went to his house in St Albans, we’ve been friends for a while and I’ve shot him quite a few times so I contacted him and said, ‘Hey Boki, I get the feeling that you’re a guy that owns a lot of silk shirts,’ and he was pretty much like, ‘Come over.’
Boki is a martial artist and he’s intelligent and he also has a Cuban-heeled boot that he commissioned someone to make for him when he was 15 years old. A stylish guy. He was an early inspiration because he has the hard and soft. I didn’t want to shoot him as a sleazy guy, he’s not a sleazy guy … he just has a lot of silk shirts.
Can you tell me how you sourced seven bald men to sing That’s Amore?
A phenomenal website called Star Now. I didn’t really know how to do this, or if it would really work. I spoke to another photographer who does really interesting casting; her name is Phoebe Schmidt, she’s a Melbourne photographer as well and she’d done some incredible work with some interesting-looking older women, who you don’t often see in fashion. I asked her how she cast it, and she said Star Now. It’s like a casting agency for extras, models, actors, there’s so many people.
I took a stab and wrote a listing; ‘looking for seven bald dudes to sing That’s Amore and be part of an exhibition’, and people responded. They were all magnificent, they all came prepared. We had a really nice morning, and then I got lovely emails afterward saying that they felt the camaraderie and felt oddly relaxed and inspired by being with six other bald men.
When it started, they said ‘Jo, when we shoot it, how do you want us to do it? Is it like-‘ and then they started singing, and I got full-body goosebumps. And I was like ‘this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. This is making me so happy’. And each one of these shoots made me really, really happy. Very nice people doing very silly things.