A low quality photograph of a glass of wine is not an acceptable featured image for an exhibition of such professional and considerate figurative photography. Matthew Attard Navarro‘s images that are currently on display at St. James Cavalier in Valletta are certainly fine art, they are also highly sexual, modern, and latently controversial. The exhibition entitled “Call you Girlfriend” was launched on 25th February and continues to 17th March 2012.
Having a background in fashion photography, the well produced photographic works on display were received last night by a mixed, though largely young, and engaged crowd of people. Clean and clear the skill of the fashion photographer is clear, from the photo-shoot set-up, through development to the final photographic product. The models that Matthew have used are beautifully photographed and the characters he creates in his works are easy to read. There is no ambiguity about the roles and meanings of the men in his work. More than a few comments passed on his use of light and tone as well as the sexual nature of the work. However, even as the audience swelled and grew as the night wore on there remained a stubborn positive attitude towards the photographs that evening.
This may well be because the work was compelling. Putting skill, composition, and sensitivity to one side, the exhibition was then compelling in another four words; beautiful men; nudity; sexuality. These words are also why the images carry some latent controversy. Sex appeal might not be engendered, but in terms of idolizing or ‘making icons’ that are sexual in a strong Catholic and patriarchal society is brave, having sexual men as ones subject is brave. One can look into recent events (1, 2) in Malta to see that in quite a transgressive way even the appearance of homosexuality is considered offensive. Therefore, in the given context of Malta this is a notably progressive exhibition that is taking place.
One might note that there are some quite evident parodies of photographic stances or poses that might be made by female pin-up models. This only serves to enhance the audience awareness of the theme ‘sex’. In regards to this parody or mirroring there came an intriguing question from one member of the audience. As the photographer is male and the subject is male there is a sense of homo-erotica present to the work. In absence of the knowledge of the photographer gender the homo-erotica would only exist within males in the audience as they relate to the images, or within the images themselves when they are featuring men with men. However if the author was female then the images are then something else entirely and the controversy is lost. The role of the author is quite significant in marking the events’ status as progressive.
Connected to this exhibition, though indirectly, there is a video interview that was carried out by Christopher Buttigieg that looks at Matthews entrepreneurial projects. There is some insight to how he approaches his work and where his inspiration has come from. What he has to say is interesting so I would consider watching this even if you are unfamiliar with the exhibition that is currently going on.