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Q&A: In ‘Body//Weight,’ photographer Christopher Selleck reflects on masculinity, societal ideals and the male form

Working with models and also inserting his own body into the series, Christopher Selleck searches for a softer, more open understanding of the male form. “Body//Weight” is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from March 18 to June 25, 2023.

From left: Joey, 2020; Kolton #2, 2022; Max #1, 2021
From left: Joey, 2020; Kolton #2, 2022; Max #1, 2021
MinnPost photos by Sheila Regan

In “Body//Weight,” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, photographer Christopher Selleck questions societal ideals of what masculinity looks like in a series of portraits, self-portraits, video pieces and mixed media work.

Selleck shares a raw openness in his self-portraits — both in photographs and video. One video shows him touching his chest in a gesture of dissatisfaction. He includes scales and an installation piece that reflects on societal fixations with certain body sizes.

Meanwhile the portraits in the exhibition feature muscular men — some that look like they could be included in the pages of a bodybuilder magazine or a cologne commercial, and others who project strength but with a wider range of shapes and appearances.

Sitting in front of dark backgrounds, where ripples in the fabric are visible, the sitters glow in a soft light, emanating warmth. Working with models and also inserting his own body into the series, Selleck searches for a softer, more open understanding of the male form.

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Here’s an interview with Selleck about the exhibition. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

Sheila Regan: What are you looking for when you are working with a model?

Christopher Selleck: It’s a vulnerability in the models, where they feel open and unfurled, showing themselves as they are. These really strong, tough bodybuilders — I’m getting the sitters to feel disarmed, so it’s not just a constant tension. In my studio when we’re shooting, it’s very casual, it’s very conversational. My studio is not overly large, so it’s very intimate.

SR: Are they all body builders?

CS: It’s a range. It’s kind of like being an artist. Being a bodybuilder is self-assigned. You can just say, I’m a bodybuilder. What I really do love about working with bodybuilders, or people who are sort of in this space, is that it’s very aspirational. Everyone has this idea of how they look or how they work and how they want to translate that physically.

Self Portrait, 2021
MinnPost photo by Sheila Regan
Self Portrait, 2021
SR: This exhibition reminds me of “The Sports Show,” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 2012. Did you see it? 

CS: Yes, that was such a huge eye opener for me to see that. And I actually was able to connect through my experience of grad school with David Little, who put that together. That show hit this perfect moment for me because I was actually completing my BFA in 2013. The initial seeds from this project sort of came from that project about my own relationship and identity with my dad and understanding what it means to be a man. The initial project was essentially a self portrait, which I lovingly refer to as Cindy Sherman meets ESPN. I was dressing myself up in these personas of athletes and jocks in a way to sort of convey this idea of identity and donning this type of persona, but also hiding using photography and lighting.

SR: How did that show influence you, and in what ways is that influence at play in the current exhibition?

CS: I think just responding to and seeing a lot of the work from that show and how so many different artists were interpreting sports as a way to look at the male form. “The Sports Show” wasn’t exclusively male, but a lot of the work did focus on male subjects, or male artists addressing their relationship to that.

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Amy Elkins’ portraits of rugby players [“Elegant Violence”], was really something that resonated with me, and connected me to Rineke Dijkstra’s bullfighters. I worked on a project looking at Ultimate Fighter types— men who were wanting to be like UFC fighters, doing martial arts and training. You’re conveying this idea of who you are as a fighter as a way to intimidate your opponents. Some of these fighters that I photographed, they’re dads and husbands, and they have soft, tender sides. That need to portray this rough exterior, is societally based and I think we’re still as a culture working through it.

SR: The self portraits seem like they are inserted somehow— like an exhibition within an exhibition. What was it like for you to work on those self-portraits?

CS: I felt like it was important to recognize that this was something that I was exploring for myself. My understanding of my own body has been complicated and has evolved over the years. I came into my own in the early to mid ‘90s, where gay culture was very much and still to some extent, about being at the gym and being fit and going to the bar.

Self portrait #2, 2020
MinnPost photo by Sheila Regan
Self portrait #2, 2020
SR:  Do you work out now?

CS: Yeah, pre-pandemic, I started exercising and working with a trainer who I was working with primarily online. Pre-pandemic, I’d started this project, and had been acquiring weights and props to use in my studio. When the pandemic hit, all-of-a-sudden, it’s like, oh, I just need a pull up bar. I basically still have a gym in my studio. I also have a gym membership.

Prior to getting my BFA, I’d sort of fallen into CrossFit, and really enjoyed the community aspect of that. I got a couple of certifications. And I was gonna start teaching, and then it didn’t work out professionally, or sort of realistically to sort of be doing that.

SR? Would you consider that like bodybuilding?

CS: Not really, I think bodybuilding is very specific, and many of the models in here are what I would consider bodybuilders in that they train for competitions, where they’re doing a posing routine onstage. And it’s about being evaluated by your overall physique, your performance, your stage presence, how you look that day. And it’s so crazy that so many of them rigorously train and go all in to some physical detriment for this stage moment. And then the minute you step off stage, if you’re not rigorously limiting your food and water and doing all of the things that you would be doing for show prep, your body just starts to atrophy again. You can’t maintain that permanent, immaculate physical physique, which for me, was like the subtle way I was thinking about masculinity as being this place where you’re trying to think about and perform masculinity, but you’re never you’re never fully there.

“Body//Weight” is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from March 18 to June 25, 2023 (free).

Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, this article originally misstated the opening date of this exhibit. It has been updated.