When I first was explored Ranee Palone Flynn’s project, It’s Alright To Hold You Here With Me, the work made me uneasy. I am not always comfortable seeing young men photographed in a sexualized and vulnerable way – though it’s the same way that young women have been photographed for decades – and it was this uneasiness that intrigued me. Renee’s interesting approach to celebrate young men in their prime, in the period where they are forming their sense of selves, is an approach that is completely contradictory to Army recruitment posters and the idea to traditional masculinity.
Renee was born in New York and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and now lives in outside of Boston, but continues to make work in both cities. Renee currently has a solo exhibition hosted through the Peter Hay Halbert Gallery in “pop up” space located at 547 W 27th Street, Ste 307 in New York City. The exhibition will be open until 18 June.
Much of Renee’s work is about chronicling teenagers, depicting them with “a tenderness and frankness.” In previous series, she has found her subjects through happenstance encounters or online, and she continues to push that methodology. “They’re still strangers,” she says. “Before, I rarely photographed people twice; now they’re mostly strangers to me, but there are some subjects I revisit.” It is a constant hallmark of Flynn’s work though, that her portraits display a sense of empathy and intimacy that belies the fact that she generally does not know them well. Flynn speaks of the bond that the artist has to forge with her subjects as a form of seduction: “Ultimately, they give me what I want by being themselves, but it’s a process to get the walls to come down on both sides, to meet not as photographer and subject, or adult and youth.”
Thematically, Flynn’s art often touches on issues of masculinity and femininity. She is frequently noted for her pictures of young women. However, for this exhibition, the main gallery will be devoted entirely to her exploration of emerging masculinity. She comments, “Girls today seem more open at first but ultimately are always trying to control and direct how they are viewed. Boys put up this front, but once you get past it, they completely lay out their awkwardness and you see truth.”
Flynn frequently draws on the mood and lyrics of contemporary music for inspiration. For this exhibition, she cites the music of the Swedish singer, Lykke Li, while the title of the show, It’s Alright To Hold You Here With Me, is taken from lyrics by songwriter Kinnie Starr. She also draws from classical 16th and 17th century painting, citing Caravaggio, Van Dijk and Rubens as influences on the aesthetic of her photographs. Echos of these painters can be seen in both her still-life and portrait photography.