FOCUS ON Photographer Ben McNutt

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FOCUS ON Photographer Ben McNutt

Ben McNutt is a young photographer who focuses his camera on one of Bob's favorite subjects, wrestling.  As a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Ben presented his thesis in the form of a photography show that paired his wrestling imagery with similar Greek and Roman statuary found in the school's historic Main Building. A 260-foot tall portrait of a wrestler was the highlight of the show, and served as a powerful connection between wrestlers past and present.

What drew you to wrestling as a subject matter?

A few years ago I came across some early 20th century photographs depicting wrestling holds, and I felt a pure instantaneous attraction. I couldn't put my finger on the source of the attraction at the time, it was just there.

Four years later, I am still obsessively exploring the sport of wrestling throughout historic and contemporary culture. It's a socially and culturally significant subject that explores themes such as power, hetero-normative, homosexuality, athleticism, history and culture. I find these themes to be personally significant, as well as significant on a larger societal scale.

As you come into the public eye, photographers, collectors and artists will want to know more about you. Can you tell me how you got to this point in your life?

When I was little I took every opportunity to doodle. I even doodled in church during the sermon. 

I couldn't stop myself. My parents didn't necessarily approve but they allowed it. I'm still that same little kid. I have to follow this internal drive that I have. I do what I do because I have to, not because I feel like it. The work is forcing its hand onto me, not the other way around.

How did you discover photography? 

When I first picked up a 35mm film camera in high school, I felt a new kind of power to run with ideas that I would otherwise never pursue. By placing the camera between myself and my subjects I was able to put myself into situations that I might otherwise find intimidating or uncomfortable. I used that power to photograph other boys and bam, I've been hooked since.

Your images typically highlight the wrestlers' physique post workout. What is the appeal of a post workout subject for you?

Imagine playing a game from beginning to end. The mindset with which you enter the game is thrown out the window by the time the game ends. The exhaustion and fatigue can make it very difficult to hide emotions. I find this really compelling and relatable. It's a brief moment of sincerity after tremendous physical and emotional exertion. That's what I'm attracted to.

Have you ever worked with the nude figure? What challenges have you encountered?

The nude figure has never been photographically interesting to me. Clothing excites me too much! Clothing can convey so much information. Color, texture, sensuality, and seduction are all at play when choosing clothes for my shoots. I look at clothes as a fundamental tool to get my point across.

Congratulations on on your recent photography exhibit at the Maryland Institute College of Art! How did the exhibit come to be?

I wish someone had given me a heads-up that I would be steaming a two-story tall photograph of a wrestler the day before the show!

Before starting work on the show I walked through the Main Building, the campus's oldest structure, and to the left of me I saw two roughed-up plaster men wrestling one another naked. It was totally absurd, and no one ever talked about it. I knew i wanted to use the sculpture in my show. The Uffizi Wrestlers, one of many titles given to the this thousands-of-years-old statue, has a rich history that's intertwined with wrestling. I also understood that I wanted to display a monumental piece, which was a portrait of a wrestler I had been exclusively photographing for around a year. From that initial push I conceptualized the other aspects: how I wanted my art to interact with the sculpture, the space, and the audience.

Can you tell me about your biggest creative challenge?

Getting the work out there. It's not the most fun answer but it's a reality that every artist faces with their work.

Did you encounter any negative experiences during the exhibit, such as homophobia or censorship?

Not at all. I've had very little push-back against my work, barring a few hateful comments and emails from the internet.

It pains me when people who challenge my work in a non-constructive negative manner think I am trying to degrade wrestling. Although I'm shedding light on aspects that might prove unpopular to some, it's a sport I obviously support!

Where would you like your photographic art to take you? What would you like your future to look like?

I'd like the privilege to create work without barriers. That, and the opportunity to display a large scale photograph in a public space.

I never think too far into my future because I know how unpredictable it all is. I never expected to be interviewed by the Bob Mizer Foundation, but here I am! Life's unpredictability can be a little scary but ultimately it's very exciting. I really do have no idea what will happen next, or where my photographic work will take me. I just know I can bank on continuing to do this activity that brings me joy.

When you're not photographing wrestlers, who/what else do you photograph?

Photographically I live and breathe wrestling. I'm not a photographer who takes my camera everywhere. If I travel or take a vacation the last thing I think about is taking a photograph.

I love getting assignments and commissions for others, however. Those open the door to photographing people and 

places that I wouldn't interact with otherwise. I hope to take on many more commissions in the future.

Share your creative process. How do you find your inspiration, models, locations, etc.?

There is limitless content in wrestling. I consume new information every day from images, articles, and events. It's a domino effect: one thing leads to another and another.

A significant number of Bob Mizer's works included wrestling. Did you find inspiration in Bob's work?

I try to include a degree of sincere personal narrative in my images. Through my blog I am incredibly open about my process and how I'm looking at things, what I'm manipulating, and what I believe I've created.

A few years ago I found myself researching the physical culture movement of the 20th century. Shortly thereafter my friend gifted me the Taschen publication, "Beefcake: The Muscle Magazines of America." That was my initial introduction to Bob Mizer.

He is clearly someone who has inspired my work. He paved the way for people like myself to create the art that we do. I find the interactions between models and photographers to be crucial to what makes an interesting photograph. Mizer shows real mastery in how he works with the models in all of his photographs. His ability to coax a certain essence from a model is really incredible; it pours out of each image. This makes me quite jealous!

Ben McNutt's online shop (benmcnutt.com/prints) offers prints for a "pay-what-you-want" price. He also offers wrestling pins, memorabilia, and original works. All proceeds go towards supporting his artistic ventures.