Removing the Mask of Masculinity: Annika Weertz on Breaking Gender Barriers

 min read

With a focus on intimacy and love, photographer Annika Weertz explores male vulnerability and breaks down conventional gender ideals.

Softness and fragility are qualities that are often rejected in the traditional view of what masculinity is. Annika captures things that feel authentic to her, focusing on issues around postmodern masculinity in the hope of quashing gender stereotypes.

"Men are beautiful, too, and they’re just as sensitive as women."

How have you developed your style? 

I’ve always tried to work on expressing myself, capturing what’s important to me – and that has mostly revolved around intimacy and authenticity. In my images, I want to focus on people's vulnerability and the beauty that lies within their fragile side. I think that style is something that just develops over time, and when you think about what you are interested in as an artist.

I’ve been taking pictures since I was around 16 years old. and In the beginning I experimented a bit, just like everyone was doing. A lot of people were taking pictures of skins and imperfections, but I was like, everyone is an imperfection, that's nothing new to me. The fact that people have scars, pimples, and stretch marks – it just seemed obvious to me.

"Intimate moments are a wonderful thing we share."

I like to share my view on the world and show that intimate moments are a wonderful thing we share. I hope that the people looking at my images can relate and start appreciating small and mundane moments better. Also, I guess my nostalgia for the 60s and 70s plays an important role too. The aesthetics of that time go straight to my heart.

How do you want to bring your perception of masculinity across in your images?

I mainly want to share my view of people with the world, be it a man or a woman. I think it is more about my individual point of view on different people. I don't take photos of men thinking "oh I am taking a picture of a man, I've got to do this or that." I always have a certain idea or image in my mind before shooting, but in the end I trust my intuition and go with the flow, rather than overthinking certain images or shoots.

When thinking about the notion of masculinity, the male archetype comes to my mind. Physically strong, dominant, confident and everything else society believes a man has to be.

The problem I see is that both words, masculinity and femininity, are so heavily defined by society’s expectations. As a result, people have a hard time identifying as female or male, because they don’t live up to these stereotypes.

What do you think we have to do in order to overcome stereotypes like these? 

Overall, the most helpful thing is to not put people in those gender boxes. Like, "he is a man, therefore he will act or think like that." Acknowledging that all people have gone through a different process and socialization helps to overcome stereotypes. I think it is an important and a necessary discussion to have, so that people rethink certain stereotypes and stop pigeonholing based on gender alone.

"The most helpful thing is to not put people in those gender boxes."

"We should unite and embrace our individuality to change our perceptions of what womanhood or masculinity is."

Tell us about something in your life that influences the images you create. 

My images are sometimes influenced by daydreaming or simply by everyday life. It really depends. I created a series last year called "Pick My Flower" that deals with female sexuality and that was influenced by the film "Une Vraie Jeune Fille" by Catherine Breillat. Sometimes single images are influenced by the mood of a song – it's always a tough task to try and translate the emotions you get from listening to a song, for example. I hope to do more of that in the future.

I think photography is a great tool to freeze a certain moment in time within an instant. The person taking the photograph chooses what moment to capture and what to share in the end. It is authentic in the way that the photographer made the decision what to take the image of. Whether the moment captured actually is authentic is up for discussion. Authenticity in photography is generally a very complex topic.

What do you hope people take from your work? 

I want to underline that it's not just women who experience societal pressure, men do too. They're always portrayed in a certain way, they're strong, muscular and dominant. It made me think: what exactly do we expect from men?

This toxic masculinity is not only bad for women but also bad for men. Men are more likely to suffer from mental illness or commit suicide; the pressure on men to always be strong and hardly show any sign of weakness creates a toxic society. We should unite and embrace our individuality to change our perceptions of what womanhood or masculinity is.

If you were to summarize your photography, and your relationship to it, in 5 words, what would you say?

Escapism, intimate, self-expression, memory, strength.

This interview was created as part of #NotYourCliche, our movement away from antiquated stock stereotypes and towards a more relevant, inclusive, representative view of global culture and society. Explore more of Annika's beautiful work via her website – or take a peek at her Instagram profile.