First things first, I thought I’d give this photograph a new perspective by turning it on its head. Obviously, the first thing I thought when I saw this picture was that it’s the reflection of a beautiful man. It’s a man with his pants down standing in water with his hands behind his back, and we see him through his reflection rippling in the water. I have always been a sucker for a photograph that gives you just enough to leave you wanting more. This picture does that for me in spades. The water distorts the picture just enough so that you can’t make out perfect details, but there is no doubt this man has a phenomenal body. So that is a largely superficial look at the photograph.
Photography is an art like any other, with the photographer as the artist. How they situate their model or what part of the scene they focus on, can tell different stories. Now to get philosophical…I am assuming that the photographer took this picture with the gay male aesthetic in mind. That being said, I would say that the photographer is attempting to make a statement about how gay men see themselves. As a community, we are far too often hypercritical of one another and that makes us hypercritical of ourselves. Therefore, we often see a distorted picture of ourselves, much like the water distorts the picture of the model. Often our distortions can be harmful to ourselves, which one might say is the reason the picture is taken with the model standing in water.
The two major points of symbolism in this photograph are the water and the reflection. Since water is often a sign of life, many times water represents life. Water can also be put into two categories: fresh water and bad/polluted water. The water in this photograph appears to be fresh water which usually represents good health. Water can also mean purity and cleansing. It also represents thirst, since people drink water to quench their thirst. Furthermore, the reflection in the water calls to mind the symbolism of the mirror. The oracle of Apollo at Delphi demanded of the ancient Greek ‘know thyself,’ and mirrors have often been used as symbols of wisdom and self-knowledge. But Apollo also required ‘nothing in excess,’ and the mirror can just as easily imply vanity, an unhealthy amount of self-regard. The peril of over admiring one’s mirror image is encapsulated in the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, the beautiful boy who having fallen in love with his reflection in a pool, pined away and was turned into a flower. One way in which an artist can make use of the mirror is to show us something that we would not otherwise be able to see; the reflection of an object or person outside the scope of the painting perhaps. In the case of this photograph, it’s the upper two-thirds of the body. The most distorted part is the face leaving us with anonymity.
Therefore, considering that we are looking through the lens of the gay male aesthetic, I gather a few points about the interpretation of this photograph. I assume that this is a photograph from either the 1970s or 1980s, but I could be wrong. I am going to postulate that the picture reminds me of a thirst for life and that the reflection in the water not only implies a narcissism, even thought the model is looking away trying to hide his narcissistic tendencies, but that the distorted face symbolizes the anonymous sex and hedonistic lifestyle of the pre-AIDS era.
Then again, the photographer may have just known that the model had a large penis, asked him to stand in the water and drop his pants so he could take a picture of his reflection so that the photographer could claim it was art because of the artistic angle and not a pornographic picture of a man with a large flaccid penis. Furthermore, this picture could be part of a larger picture and was merely cropped this way by someone at some point.