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Men in the Mirror



Kevin Gilligan offers a self-reflective snapshot on what it’s like to be a man in today’s world, via an ambitious 18-month project created with Tamron lenses.


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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Kevin Gilligan


In 2016, an idea for a project began percolating in Kevin Gilligan’s imagination, a bringing together of distinct but connected concepts he’d long mulled over on what it means to be a man in today’s world. The Los Angeles-based photographer envisioned an in-depth examination of the different roles men take on in a contemporary society with constantly shifting expectations, depicted through portraits and a video documentary with 15 willing subjects. Eighteen months later, Kevin completed his project, which he came to call “Developing Men,” an enterprise that took him to nine cities on both coasts.

The name of the project was meant to be a triple entendre of sorts—a nod not only to the development of film in photography’s early days, but also to the ongoing development of men as they journey through different stages of their lives. “I have a son I was thinking a lot about during this project, and what kind of man I’d like to see him be, and what kind of man I’d like to be for him, as well as for my wife and daughter,” Kevin says. “For my subjects, I chose thoughtful men who are committed to continually developing so they can contribute to the world in meaningful ways. This project also was a part of my own technical development. The learning curve was steep, in terms of learning how to shoot video for a documentary and wrangling with things like sound issues. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned so much from them along the way.”

Kevin used a variety of Tamron lenses for both the stills and video for “Developing Men,” with his main lens of choice the Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 VC G2 high-speed zoom. “For each of my subjects, I wanted to capture at least one formal portrait and then a second, environmental portrait,” he says. “I was able to use the 24-70 to achieve more up-close, intimate photos, then zoom out to capture environmental images that told a little more of the story behind each subject.” Other lenses Kevin tapped into for this project included the SP 70-200mm F/2.8 VC G2 telephoto and the SP 150-600mm VC G2 ultra-telephoto, as well as the SP 85mm F/1.8 VC and SP 15-30mm F/2.8 VC G2 lenses.

“It was really important to me that the men I interviewed were willing to have conversations where they could be open and a little exposed,” Kevin says. “They needed to be able to scrutinize themselves and their lives in ways they maybe hadn’t before. I took a big bite with this project, asking these men to touch upon themes of friendship, masculinity, isolation, community, and legacy. I needed a variety of lenses that could best show them in those stages of vulnerability as they explored these themes and thought about how they’d keep moving forward in their lives.”

Throughout his photography career, Kevin has always enjoyed experimenting with lighting to evoke just the right mood in every image, and this project was no different. “Because these were male subjects, I emphasized shadows a lot more than I usually would for female subjects,” he says. “In many of the portraits, I went for a serious, moody look, which is funny, because all of these guys have very warm personalities. We brought that side of them out more in the environmental portraits.”

© Kevin Gilligan
Portrait: 70-200mm (77mm), F/4.5, 1/400 sec., ISO 160
Click image to view larger

© Kevin Gilligan
Environmental shot: 24-70mm (31mm), F/6.3, 1/50 sec., ISO 100
Click image to view larger

Because he tried to photograph a diverse group of men, Kevin also got to play around with lighting that worked with various skin tones. “Different men required different lighting and backgrounds to look their best, and I loved the challenge of that,” he says. “It was all part of the fun of this project.”

Kevin leaned into the uniqueness of each subject in deciding how to photograph them. “I had two doctors, a photographer, a police chief, a marketing guy, one involved in real estate, another attorney like myself, and because so many of them were from California, there were quite a few who like to surf in their free time, so it was an eclectic bunch,” he says. “Their environmental images were especially individualized. I would ask each of them what they thought the best example would be of them ‘at play,’ and that’s what we would run with during the shoot.”

© Kevin Gilligan
Portrait: 85mm, F/7.1, 1/250 sec., ISO 100
Click image to view larger

© Kevin Gilligan
Environmental shot: 24-70mm (31mm), F/4.5, 1/30 sec., ISO 640
Click image to view larger

Take Rafael McMaster, an artist who runs Indivisible Arts, a nonprofit out of the Resin Gallery in Hermosa Beach, California. “Rafael got sober six years ago, and he was very frank about his experiences in our interviews,” Kevin says. “He was living the life of a creative executive in the entertainment industry, and then just crashed and burned. But he found sobriety and inner peace, and he now meditates three times daily. On the day when I took his formal portrait, it was early in the morning, and he said to me, ‘Do you mind if I just meditate for a bit before we start?’ I told him to go for it, and as he was doing his thing, with his eyes closed, I realized I had to take a picture. It was such a compelling shot, and so much a part of his narrative arc.” Rafael now uses photography and art to cultivate creativity, consciousness, and connection.

© Kevin Gilligan
Portrait: 24-70mm (29mm), F/6.3, 1/125 sec., ISO 100
Click image to view larger

© Kevin Gilligan
Environmental shot: 24-70mm (29mm), F/5.6, 1/400 sec., ISO 800
Click image to view larger

“I also really loved photographing Dr. Don Sanders, shown here with his dog,” Kevin continues. “He was the doctor who did my hip replacement. He went to UCLA for undergrad and medical school, and then did his orthopedic residency at Harvard. He was only the second or third Black orthopedist to go through Harvard’s training program, and he’s a fascinating guy—brilliant and super-interesting, but also so humble. I wish I could have included much more of our conversations in the documentary.”

© Kevin Gilligan
Portrait: 24-70mm (49mm), F/5.6, 1/640 sec., ISO 640
Click image to view larger

© Kevin Gilligan
Environmental shot: 24-70mm (27mm), F/3.5, 1/320 sec., ISO 640
Click image to view larger

Upon the project’s completion, “Developing Men” became Kevin’s third solo exhibit, shown at the Resin Gallery in October 2019. “It was great to get everyone who participated together for this event,” he says. “They’re all good men who care about their communities, and I’m proud to call them friends. My legacy to them was to give each of them a framed photo of themselves from the project, which I presented at the end of the show. Because I believe that everyone should have at least one beautiful professional portrait of themselves printed, framed, and hanging up in their homes.”

To learn much more about Kevin Gilligan’s “Developing Men” project, click here. To see more of Kevin’s work, check out his website or Instagram.





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