Broadway Spotlight: Artist of the Month
First introduced to our gallery in the 2022 Letchworth Open, Theo Leonowicz is a 26-year-old photographer and support worker currently completing a postgraduate degree at the Royal College of Art. Theo’s work aims to investigate the intrinsic ties between patriarchy and masculinity whilst embarking on a journey of self-reflection through the camera lens.
How did you first become interested in photography?
Both my parents are artists so I’ve always been surrounded by creativity. But, I rebelled against it in my younger years. I dropped out of sixth form and did lots of different jobs. I worked in hospitality, labouring and even gym instructing. Then, in 2017 I began liking the idea of analogue cameras and the chemistry of printing and processing. When I found something that I was really interested in, I completely fell for it. I got into university without any A Levels and I’ve now nearly completed my postgraduate degree. It feels unjust to say that one day I just picked up the camera when, really, I’ve never known what I wanted to do. But, that’s been the exciting thing. Now, instead of being in a garage or gym day-to-day, photography has allowed me to pursue everything: people, places, objects, narratives and cultures. I take my camera with me everywhere I go.
What’s your relationship with the Broadway Gallery?
I grew up in Letchworth so I always knew that it was there and would visit with my parents. I’m glad that Letchworth has a place like that – an artistic hub. It’s been a place that has been there continuously throughout my upbringing and, as I grow older, I want to get involved with it more.
Your work aims to explore masculinity under the purview of patriarchy. Could you give us some more insight into your interests on this subject?
My current work is an expression of what the construction of masculinity is and how it affects everyone. I’m exploring masculinity as a kind of pervasive toxicity. I’m interested in leaning into this cynicism of masculinity and showing its fragility whilst also refraining from trying to deconstruct masculinity in a way that perpetuates a male dominance over the narrative. That’s why listening to lots of different people and reflecting on my own position of privilege is so important when investigating these things. I think the real role of the patriarchal man is to understand, listen and to become aware of how patriarchy has affected the culture we’re in.
Who are some of the artistic influences that have inspired you?
A large influence for me is my university tutor, Alice Butler. I’ve participated a lot in her
feminist reading group. I think it’s imperative for me to associate myself with feminist research in order to stay outside of the potential echo-chamber that you can come across online, and within yourself, when contemplating your position as a man.
I’ve also been inspired by bell hooks’s book, ‘The Will to Change’. I devoured that. It taught me the value of love – the only force. hooks discusses masculinity’s pervasiveness and asymmetrical dominance within the gender roles. But, she also looks at how patriarchy effects men as well. It’s a precarious thing, men and patriarchy, so if I’m going to talk about it then I need to understand how it’s channelled through me.
I think it’s equally important to understand how people like Andrew Tate have manifested and been able to capitalise on patriarchy. It’s important to be willing to understand all sides and to translate this through the work in tandem with feminist readings as they work hand in hand when understanding patriarchal masculinity.
How do you aim to convey this through your images?
‘Jamie in his living room’ is a portrait of someone I work with as a support worker. He identities quite heavily with being a heteronormative ‘man’ in all the ways you can imagine and you can see that in the image. There’s a wrestling belt, leather chairs and a small plaque that just says ‘the boss’. But, he also loves the queer icon Freddie Mercury. I think it’s interesting how masculinity has manifested itself in the image and the subject: a universal feeling of wanting to express, feel and love. But, there’s also a whole other side to it where patriarchal masculinity doesn’t allow men to do that. It’s an image that perpetuates masculinity but is almost so masculine that it becomes a sort of homo-social identification. I feel that patriarchal masculinity is like a castration of what we could be. This ‘castration’ is maybe more prominent in ‘Underwear,’ which is an image of a noose-like rope tied around a waist. The rope acts as a noose around what men think they should be and hold so dear: their ‘manhood’. But, it’s also important to take this with a pinch of salt. The person I work with is unapologetically himself and is happy within that. I think that stands out in relation to some of the other images, as it creates a kind of viewing experience where some people recognise this castration and the will to change whereas others are happy as they are.
How has this process correlated with your journey with your own masculinity?
It’s been a massive form of therapy and self-reflection. It’s totally an expression and investigation into my own masculinity from my perspective as a white cisgender man. That’s where collaborating has been a massive inspiration because there could be a series solely of self-portraits and that could be very telling of my own entitlement.
So, would you say that collaboration has been your favourite part of the creative process?
Collaboration has been completely eye-opening. I realised that collaboration is the antidote to toxic masculinity. When working with someone…you have to be vulnerable. You have to be able to be open and ask for help. That’s kind of the antithesis of masculinity. It’s also fulfilling to get a sense of validation, not just through other people, but by showing yourself that you can be open to collaborate in the first place. It’s been painful and joyous. But, collaborating within this framework of identity allowed me to explore and heal photographically.
What do you want our visitors to take away from your spotlight at the gallery?
I think it will be an interesting experience to walk into an almost empty room filled with tiny images floating in black squares. I want it to be a rewarding and intriguing journey for people to peer around the corner and to follow that experience towards the images. I want it to be stirring through its minimal nature…but stirring enough that people get sucked in and peer into those little tunnels.
Where do you see your artistic journey going?
I’d like to keep collaborating and gaining more perspective. I’d like to teach and work with people that are constantly talking and having interesting conversations. I think that’s the most beautiful and organic form of creativity. I just want to invest myself into as many people and avenues as possible.
Theo’s photographs will be displayed in the Broadway Gallery from 17 June - 22 July 2023.