Ryan Duffin on identity: pioneering methods of dissection, construction, and defining sense-of-self

June 20, 2016

Ryan Duffin is a young Canadian photographer subjectively tackling the topics of personal and cultural identity by visually surveying a range of territories, such as gender, sexuality and social stigmas.

One of Duffin’s most recent and notable projects, titled Crotch Odor Control, pushes viewers to confront how frequently queer men are faced with the complexity of affirming a “masculine” condition while inherently rejecting those same definitions. Its name derives from the index of the book which serves its inspiration; a publication titled Working Out, the spine of which randomly caught Duffin’s eye in the used section of a bookstore. According to Duffin, Working Out originally hit shelves following it’s publication in 1983 – sharing a similar timeline with the birth of the AIDS crisis. Inside, Duffin explains, he found a comprehensive “guide to being a man,” with sections exploring how to secure a tie, instructions on what hair conditioner to use, and an extensive list of at-home work out routines. However, this hyper-masculine narrative was complicated by photographs included in the publication that Duffin felt radiated subversive homoeroticism and sexual desire.

Thinking about the role these images played in the proliferation of extreme body ideals, Duffin found a wealth of creative possibility in his own ability to re-define the aforementioned men’s help guide. He began to execute personal projects based on sections of the publication, turning the included images and texts into objects to re-photograph. Here, Crotch Odor Control blossomed, becoming one element of a dynamic and almost uncomfortably clean body of work that the artist is proud to call his own. Whether editorial, conceptual, or part of one of Duffin’s personal publications, his work is distinct, eye-catching, and tirelessly pushes his audience to explore a change in personal perspective.

Further regarding inspiration, Ryan Duffin explains, “exponential advancements in technology and communication in the past 20 years have been occurring alongside my generation's coming of age. My existence is specifically concurrent with the rise of screen-based culture. This condition of existing simultaneously in the physical world and in virtual space has created a new wave of individuals with incredible access to new ideas, people, and histories.” He strategically uses this shift as a springboard to understanding not only his contemporaries, but also collective worldviews; dissecting how social technology, existing imagery and objects influence the formation of identity. About his process, he states that “constructing photographs in a constellatory framework allows me to assemble a puzzle of information that pieces together to reveal larger ideas relating to science, mysticism, and queer culture. In my method of working, pictures can act as a mode of time travel and aid in the construction of utopian futures.” To see more of Ryan Duffin’s work, you may visit his website or his Instagram.

- Cassandra Bils