Christopher Selleck, Spencer (detail), 2019, Pigmented Ink Print Mounted to Dibond with Luster Laminate. Courtesy the artist.

Christopher Selleck on pulling back the veil of performative masculinity

By Dustin Steuck //

Christopher Selleck’s “Body // Weight” exhibition, on view at Mia as part of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, uses video and sculptural works to animate the ritualistic practices of gym culture. Primarily portraiture, it’s a tender invitation to reconsider the archetype of American masculinity and the constraints it imposes on our dominant cultural psyche.

Selleck’s first foray into the arts was through theater. But during his junior year of high school, watching a print develop in a darkroom, he discovered a love of photography. In the 30 years since, that fascination for developing images has compelled him to explore multiple routes of image-making, from commercial and editorial work to photojournalism to portraiture.

He was at a fighting academy, documenting mixed-martial artists, when he experienced a breakthrough. Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s as a closeted gay man, Selleck had felt like an outside observer of masculinity, taking it in through sports and physique photography. Now, he could use sports and masculinity as a lens to view identity. Flipping the camera back on himself in a self-portraiture project, he revealed the internalized fears and anxiety of conforming to restrictive ideals of masculinity.

Details from Selleck’s images in “Body // Work” reveal subtle negotiations with masculinity.

On expanding perceptions of masculinity, breaking open that man box, he says, “There are so many subtle, interesting, and engaging ways to talk about it, and to make space for men to be reflective and consider their own interiority.” Much of the criticism of masculinity comes from outside, he notes, which makes this self-reflection that much more important.

In his images of weightlifters, Selleck prompts the viewer to carefully consider the figures—how they are posed and the moment they were captured. In the still images, we see the moment of release after a long pose or hard flexing of the body; in the moving images, we see the rigor and dedication of these men, the ritualistic practices of weightlifting. Instead of idealized representations of the male figure, we see the subtleties of men negotiating their relationship with their bodies—a quiet conversation in which we’re invited to participate.

As a queer artist, Selleck is honored to have his work at Mia during Pride month. In the 1990s, when Selleck first began visiting Mia, most photography on display was historical, not contemporary. “You wouldn’t necessarily see any sort of queer work,” he says. And yet the history of queer people is rich with acts of resilience in the ongoing battle for visibility and liberation, notably in art—acts of queer survival that aid in the understanding of queer lives, queer experiences, and the treatment of those who have identified as 2SLGBTQIA+ throughout time. As the gendered organizational ethics and practices of institutions like museums are being challenged, work by artists like Selleck is increasingly visible. “I love that it is being celebrated by the museum,” he says, “and recognized in a very powerful way.”