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Fashion

Frames from If you can't see me, you can't be, Conor Clinch / Ryan Zaman

In September 2020 LOVE magazine’s online platform published one of their #LOVEDiaries in which the obligatory video was accompanied, somewhat unusually, by the transcript of a conversation between the director/photographer and model. The video entitled If you can’t see me, you can’t be is on one level a dreamy, cinematic ode to those iconic films that seem to have wedded the masculine and the modish in the popular imagination over the years; think Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) or Michael Caine in The Italian Job (1969). But at 9 mins 28 sec. in length the final cut revealed itself to be a much more original take on masculinity in a contemporary sense as well as an unexpected example of thinking through photography.

The video’s director, Conor Clinch, a self-trained and up-and-coming fashion photographer who hails originally from Coolock in Dublin’s northside, says the original idea was to make a 3 min short showing the model ‘driving around Puglia in a 1980 Maserati, but it quickly became something more personal’. In 2014, Clinch had made a series of photographic portraits of young men, entitled Fresh, that endeavoured to show masculinity as somehow constructed or performed through the specifics of style (trainers; tracksuits; buzzcuts; etc). Growing up in a working-class part of a big city, and in a rigid heteronormative society, clearly prompted Clinch to reflect on how and why masculinity is fashioned. Fast forward to 2020 and for If you can’t see me, you can’t be, Clinch collaborated with his boyfriend, the English model Ryan Zaman, and seems to have approached the project as a means to interrogate the masculine from a different, more intimate perspective.

On the surface this must have seemed an ideal opportunity to explore, and showcase, Zaman’s soulful vulnerability, his boyish, doe-eyed, Bambi-like expression, as much as his youthful sex appeal (Zaman in part resembles a young Tom Hardy, all square jawline and bee-stung lips). The aesthetics of the video owe much to the pervasive images of masculinity that find a point of origin in modern film. Clinch employs several cinematic markers of manliness from cars to cool sunglasses as well as games such as poker and pool and lingering shots of the lone figure in a landscape, so commonplace they have become indelible in our collective psyche. But the unexpected voiceover by Zaman disrupts any conventional reading of such images. His monologue recounts the rarely heard experiences of someone living with Cerebral Palsy from childhood to manhood. In addition the images of Zaman driving and wandering around the picturesque southern Italian towns of Alezio and Carovigno, in typical fashion shoot mode, are intercut with real-life footage of his childhood in Manchester. These were compiled over the years by his mother and show Zaman as a premature baby gasping for air whilst on a ventilator in hospital; at home learning to walk as a toddler; at primary school participating in a kiddie’s pretend fashion show. The images are powerful in their unadorned honesty, but they are underscored by Zaman’s narration in a profoundly affecting way. In fact, the images are so absorbing and Zaman so engaging that it is easy to forget his body is advertising a selection of products from MSGM, Prada, Gucci, Dsqaured2 and Fendi.

Zaman has not been modelling for long (he held an office job until quite recently) but in the last year he has featured in fashion spreads in magazines (Wonderland)

Conor clinch &ryan zaman

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