For a long time Ken, Barbie’s plastic companion, was the only man available for any young person wanting to play with a male doll. Though more male dolls exist nowadays, Ken remains the ideal for many people: He’s white, generically good-looking, muscular and completely smooth. Inspired by Ken and by Instagram filters that smooth-out people’s faces, giving them a shiny, idealized appearance, New Jersey-based photographer Courtney Charles created a Ken photo series, showing different types of men — artists, professionals and average Joes — retouched to look like sexy, modern-day Ken dolls with a gay twist. The effect of the Courtney Charles Ken photo series is both sexy and a little unsettling.
The Courtney Charles Ken photo series reimagines men of different races as incarnations of the Ken doll. And just like Ken dolls, Charles’ models have black seams running along their necks and shoulders, proof of their artificial, doll-like nature.
But Charles also adds a queer twist on his theme by dressing each of his men in pink with a pink background, turning these men into lusty playthings of a different sort for boys of all ages.
Here are some men from the Courtney Charles Ken photo series:
“Being a futurist,” Charles says, “I want to offer new visions of what the world will look like through provocative imagery. Much of my work strives to shift people’s perceptions of gender, sexuality and social norms by showing that being different is beautiful.”
In a recent interview featuring the Courtney Charles Ken photo series, Courtney said he wanted his images to help break down stereotypes. Each Ken is dressed in stereotypical clothes befitting cowboys, DJs, astronauts and other professions. But for his models, these cultural identities aren’t just a form of dress-up, but an important part of their identities, dreams and self-expression.
“With the Ken series, I hope to show that there isn’t just one common ideal of the modern man. Regardless of who you are, you can still be the ‘plastic-perfect’ version of yourself,” Charles said.
It’s worth checking the other colorful, queer images on Charles’ professional website.
“With camera phones getting better and better,” Charles says, “it has become more difficult to create images which show people things which they haven’t seen before.”