The New Man
Since « Sasha » (the intimist and dreamlike series, close to a fairy tale, she dedicated to her daughter and to the gateway between childhood and adolescence and then to young woman), Claudine Doury keeps questioning this intervening period of age, body and time, both fragile and violent, which is adolescence.
If in her previous pictures until now, men would only fleetingly appear as an extra, this time they are at the heart of « The New Man » which is a series entirely made in St Petersburg. This series echoes both the revolutionary imperative of Bolshevism of course and also this moment of slough and transformation when the adolescent boy hatches into a man.
This is a transition, the crossing of a border, a real metamorphosis. The artist keeps on trying to capture and decode this moment so special and unique of a crisis and the coming to oneself.
By doing so, she questions the male identity - what does becoming a man really mean ? And becoming a man in Russia i.e. in a changing country, which is completely different from the former USSR at the time of cold war and iron curtains ?
And also and maybe more radically she positions herself like a woman who dares at last to look at men.
As men have always done most evidently with women, during centuries, no matter what their age.
This right to « female gaze » is quite new, we have to insist on it. This is the result of a long struggle of American artists such as Sally Mann, proclaiming « I am a woman who gazes » and why not at men. This is a real looking conquest.
Claudine Doury says to all these Russian middle-class young men, coming from all over this huge country and going to St Petersburg to study arts and start a new way of living at the opposite extreme of their Elders : « Let me look at you » and take pictures of you.
There is neither superfluous decors nor needlessly sophisticated directing : only mere background images with muted chromaticism, stairwells, scaled walls.... Half-length bodies and close-up pictures on their faces.
Whereas they all claim to be resolutely modern, turned towards arts and culture, connected with the rest of the world, and appropriating the codes of globalization, their portraits though, prove to be transhistorical, i.e. eternal Little Princes, Greek beautiful young men or archetypes of returning aristocrats. They all send us back to paintings of Léonard, Dürer or Holbein, more or less present in our iconic memory.
Some of them are of Slavic type, with a lunar skin, high cheekbones, an ice blue look and ripped muscles while others have the ambiguous charm of cut flowers, as fragile as slight and slim Saint Sebastian, oscillating, hesitating between genders.
Thus the question arises of what is masculinity ? That is a question to which it is difficult to give an unambiguous answer.
Claudine Doury does not answer this question, which is what makes her work so right. She refuses to take pictures of teenagers who would be too masculine. You won't find any « hipster » in her collection of new men ; she lets us confronted with the question itself, like the teenager is the hint of the man to be.