Brawn meets beauty in Mark Leeming’s Bearded Brutes
A lot of guys are sporting beards these days, but we bet you’ve never seen beards quite like these. Sometime last year, the ‘glitter beard’ trend sprung up on social media, and dozens of bearded guys got creative, customising their beards with sparkles and glitter. Noticing this unusual trend, British photographer Mark Leeming was inspired. “I am somewhat of a magpie and have always been drawn to all things that sparkle and shine,” he says.
This fascination with glitz and glamour began as a child, when Leeming would raid his mother’s jewellery box for fun. But even as he grew older, his fondness for all things shiny never wavered. “I decided that I wanted to give it a go and create a few portraits of friends, but up the ante somewhat and apply a full face of makeup,” Leeming says. “I quite liked the idea of pushing and blurring the boundaries of the femme vs masc stereotypes.”
The result is Bearded Brutes, a collection of photographs bursting with colour, sparkle and, of course, beards. Combining the masculinity of the bearded male with the kitsch, camp flamboyance of heavy make-up and theatrical poses, Leeming’s photos offer an interesting insight into the juxtapositions of modern masculinity.
“I wanted to show gay males in an almost ambiguous way,” Leeming explains. “Obviously you see that they are male first and foremost but with an added streak of playfulness and kitsch quality. Over the past few years I have become more and more integrated into the drag community, and I have really soaked up their zest for life and passion. What they do every weekend is a pure art form, it’s not just throwing on some lashes and a cheap wig, it is cohesive, well planned, projected, living artistry. I guess their influences transcended into my working style and this ultimately formed the Bearded Brutes.”
Leeming’s work has its roots in drag culture, and he explains one of his influences is the most famous drag queens of them all. “I had been watching a lot of Drag Race, and have got a lot of my friends on the RuPaul wagon now. I just fell in love with everything about it: the costumes, the makeup, the wigs, the catfights! I wanted to give it a go. I had done some drag in my late teens but now I wanted to really try it properly. I started watching makeup tutorials online, practicing on myself to hone my craft.
“When it came to the start of the Bearded Brutes, I decided I was going to use my newfound makeup skills on all the guys. It ultimately turned into a series of colourful, pop art, kitsch, genderfuck portraits. Each one has their own story behind it. None of them are thrown together and they all reflect the model chosen.”
Aside from the obvious aesthetic choices behind the styling of the images, Leeming says he also wanted to comment on the rigidity of gender and sexuality. “There is so much pressure to conform these days and be so gender specific, but why? Why do we have to brand ourselves as gay, bi, trans, straight, gender neutral etc? Society as a whole plays a big part in forcing people to decide who they are and what they are about. NO thanks, not for me. I think trying to conform stunts creativity and growth. It’s a pretty exhilarating experience being in a label free environment.”
Leeming hand picks his models to ensure they’re the right fit for his work but their beards are not the first thing he looks at. The most important thing is that they have the right attitude for the shoot and come ready to have fun. As for the styling, Leeming says it’s important the clothes and make-up reflect the personality of each model.
As it stands, Bearded Brutes is still in its early stages, but looks set to grow in the coming months as Leeming unveils a new set of photos. So what can we expect from the next batch? “All I will say is they seem to be getting bigger each time. If you look at the first in the collection, Ieuan, I adore this pic, it seems a little timid compared to the latest – Ian with his oversizes PVC bowtie, glittered fingertips and eye-wateringly neon hot pink backdrop.”
It looks like Leeming’s photos are only going to get more extravagant with time as he develops his eye-catching style and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. “I know Coco Chanel famously said ‘take off the last thing you put on’ when getting dressed, adopting the less is more style, but I am afraid for these Brutes, it’s a case of ‘where can we fit in the kitchen sink darling…?’”