‘Men With Earrings’

‘Men With Earrings’

Photo series looks at masculinity and identity


The little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, was clearly fascinated, remembers photographer and multi-media artist John Rankine. “Mama,” he recalls her saying, “that man is wearing earrings.”

It wasn’t unusual in those days in Key West, Fla., to find Rankine wearing earrings when he was out and about on everyday errands like that visit to the laundromat. It wasn’t because he was transgender (he wasn’t) or gay (he was). He just happened to own a large collection of vintage clip-on earrings, and “I looked at it as performance art.”

“I was always surprised by people’s reactions to simple ear-bobs worn by a man — from averted eyes and embarrassed giggles, to compliments, hostile looks and even a shout out of ‘… faggot’. People’s reactions made it an interactive piece,” Rankine says, “which became part of the performance.”

Even in Eureka Springs, where Rankine has lived with his partner, Bill King, for 23 years, he admits “there is always the fear when you put yourself out there that you will fail miserably, you will be laughed off the stage, or even face the threat of physical violence.” But over those years, an idea had begun to gain traction in his head involving the earrings; he wanted to create “portraits that bend gender roles and examine masculinity, man’s projected feminine side, identity politics, conformist roles and societal norms challenging perceived notions of gender and identity.”

“Men With Earrings,” a series of 69 portraits of Eurekans who identify as male, opens this weekend — Diversity Weekend — at Brews in Eureka Springs. Already a 2011 recipient of the Arkansas Arts Council’s Individual Fellowship for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts in Arkansas, Rankine was recently awarded an Artist 360 grant from the Mid America Arts Alliance and the Walton Family Foundation based on this exhibition.

“I chose models from the community of all backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, body types and sexual orientations,” Rankine says. “Many of the subjects chose their earrings from the large selection provided — most wanted me to choose what I thought best — while several brought clip-on earrings that were their mother’s or grandmother’s.

“Although the portraits were shot from the shoulders up, subjects were asked to pose shirtless, adding an unexpected vulnerability to many of the photographs,” he explains. “While I believe many of the individual portraits are strong, it’s the collective — the entire collection of photographs — that make a fervent and cohesive statement.”

Rankine hopes viewers will “see past the obvious fun of the photos and maybe examine their own perceived notions of masculinity and gender identity.”

“This portrait series had been brewing in my head for several years,” he says. “As a gay man who has dealt with homophobic remarks and even a fist to the head for holding my same sex partner’s hand in public, sexual orientation, masculinity and what it means to be a man are issues I have contemplated for decades.”



‘Men With Earrings’

WHEN — Until Dec. 17

WHERE — Brews, across from the Post Office in downtown Eureka Springs

COST — Free

INFO — Email johnrankine69@gmail.com

Categories: Maker Space