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January 24, 2013

All about men

Photographer's show explores the nature of masculinity

BEVERLY — It may or may not be a man’s world, but in the photography of Jesse Burke, the world of men is the center of attention.

On display at the Carol Schlosberg Gallery at Montserrat College of Art, Burke’s work captures men engaging in sports, hunting and drinking beer. The show as a whole is identified with the latter activity by the use of a beer’s brand name in its title, “Jesse Burke: High Life.”

There is some version of the beverage in several photos, including bottles of beer cradled in the hands of some portrait subjects, pressurized beer flying out of cans and one figure drinking brew “shotgun”-style.

The exhibit may appear at first like the record of a frat party.

But far from simply indulging in male stereotypes, Burke’s work invites an emotional response that complicates and even subverts our understanding of masculinity.

“They’re portraits of primarily the men in his life, whether friends or family, and he really tries to show them in an honest but also kind of a vulnerable way,” said Leonie Bradbury, director and curator of the galleries at Montserrat. “To me, his work addresses or questions the roles that men are expected to play in society.”

Bradbury points to three photos of shirtless male figures whose physiques range from “buff” to one — the artist’s — for whom exercise does not appear to be a priority.

“It’s honest, it’s not idealized, this is who he is,” Bradbury said. “His portraiture — he just shows it so honestly, and in doing so he creates questions.”

Burke, who teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, usually takes and displays his photos in series. The Montserrat show selects from several of these, one of which focused on life in a hunting camp in North Carolina.

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