By Kath Gannaway
The invisibility of male youth has taken a very public profile with the launch last week of two larger-than-life portrait panels in Mount Evelyn and Yarra Junction.
The panels are the culmination of ‘Seen and Heard – Boy to Man’, a project by renown Warburton photographer Kate Baker.
The panels feature stunning black and white portraits of boys aged from 15 to 19 living in the Yarra Valley, along with their views on aspects of life such as how they see our society, how do they see their place in that society, and how do they see the value they have to offer.
The inspiration for the project goes back a decade when Kate was working with young homeless and disadvantaged people under the umbrella of the Salvation Army.
The Oasis photographic series that came from that experience delivered not only powerful portraits, but astounding insights.
“Young people spontaneously started telling me their stories,” Kate said.
“The large-format camera creates something of a place of trust that seemed to evoke a very genuine response, both in the photo, and in what they told me.”
The use of the film camera, and the space it provides, allows both the photographer and the subject to take a step back.
“It’s a very different process,” Kate says. “I’m not behind the camera. I ask them to look into the lens … I will ask them to think of something that’s important to them.”
Ten years after the Oasis project, some of the participants still stay in contact.
“The nature of connection in portraiture is something that drives my work,” she said.
“I felt I would like to do a project up here that would have a social benefit to the community as well as being interesting.
“There are still so many issues, we’re still talking about youth depression and homelessness, still talking about radicalisation, and when you think about it, the nature of what it means to be a man has changed.”
“Our roles used to be quite gender defined, and a man could be defined by his work and being a good provider, it’s not like that anymore.
“Women can do everything a man can do and they can’t just be successful by being a good provider.”
Kate said the responses on topics such as the transition between boyhood and manhood, and on values, how they see themselves at 28 … were revealing and honest.
“That’s what I really love about this … they are much more emotionally aware.
“I feel so encouraged.
She said another revelation was the degree to which young people were aware of the perils of the internet and its potential to have a negative effect on their ability for personal interaction.
“Some now see phones as a far better option to texting,” she said.
The strength of the project is in its diverse approach to the young people who make up the collection, coming from schools including Steiner, Cire, Upper Yarra Secondary College, Lilydale High and Mount Lilydale.
The murals are an ephemeral depiction of youth, their views on life, and on the future.
They will fade, but will be replaced with new panels offering new visions and new voices.
Kate is hoping to do a similar project in Healesville.
Follow the project on www.facebook.com/seenandheardboytoman .