American Virgin

The photographer questioning gender – and how its meaning can transform
By Barry Pierce | Art | 20 July 2023

Austn Fischer is interested in the ways that gender is a lie. The performative way donning a leather jacket, shirt and tie can shift the viewpoint of those around you, how clothing, stances, even gestures can convey someone’s inherent masculinity.

Hailing from a Catholic family in rural Wisconsin, a place where gender is thought of as nothing but an immutable fact, the photographer uses his lens to examine how gender is a central facet of us all, but it is something that is moveable, malleable, a falsehood. “All my life I was told how to be a boy,” he tells us, a command that he has mulled over for years and something that points out the fallibility of gender. You aren’t automatically a man or a woman, instead you learn how to align yourself with either gender. In this latest photobook, American Virgin, Fischer goes deep on what gender means to him and the ways perceptions of masculinity have shaped his life.

We caught up with Austn to personally take us through each section of his captivating new book.


1. Gender

“All my work is focused around the idea of gender performance, that your clothing, hair style, and general body language depicts your gender. I find interesting the performance of portraying identity through visual appearance. Artists have long been looking into this: Andy Warhol, Man Ray, Claude Cahun are all examples of artists that have tackled gender stereotypes in their work. My work similarly challenges outdated understandings of gender.”

2. Religion

“I grew up in a rural area of Wisconsin, I was raised Catholic and attended a church service every Wednesday evening when I was in school. Sunday was a ritual that you didn’t miss. Through growing up learning about Catholicism I watched a student be screamed at for being trans, and stories of people turning gay from drinking water from infested water in Germany.

My relationship with Catholicism has been extremely critical because of my upbringing – the misinformation and suffocation that I witnessed. Growing up in the United States, I realised that religion was everywhere. We said it in school every morning during the pledge of allegiance, the word god was on all our money. It made me question how free America actually is when God is in control.

This project aims to re-examine religion, and give a voice to those it’s neglected, to reflect on a society that is based on Catholicism in the land of the free.”

3. Faces

“Rather straightforward, it’s the people that I’ve been able to photograph over the past four years in Chicago, London, New York, and my home in Wisconsin.”

4. American Sugar

“All my life I was told how to be a boy. I was told that I needed to play sports, love women, and put myself first. As I begin to experience things on my own, I begin to realise what true masculinity is.

I began to explore the most extreme forms of male identification. I started to look at drag queens and their influence on masculinity. Drag has always questioned what it means to be a man through the use of performance, make-up, clothing, and set design. Looking at how drag queens present themselves, I began a series of self-portraits and photographs depicting what masculinity means to me. I began to think about all the ideas that were instilled in me about gender and question what they meant.

Looking at paintings and the romanticised female nude I explore objectification from the male perspective. Looking at classic works of art, I’m learning just how involved masculinity is. Looking at the ideas from the mind of painters I really began to understand how men perceive women. We consider art to be a very exclusive club for the high class and the elite; the place where women were first seen nude and put on display. 95 percent of all the nudes in the MET are female, when less than five percent of the artists are female. Through the use of props, set design, and self-portraiture I explore how I interpret masculinity.

Sugar Dream is an exploration of my masculinity.”

Pre-order Austn Fischer: American Virgin here.


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