Photography: Ryan Skelton
Text: Anna Sanders
Exposed, exploratory, and enigmatic: such is the work of Ryan Skelton, whose kittenish (and often nude) portraiture caught our attention on Instagram. In its immediacy and playful aesthetic, his work feels perfectly suited for the medium. Stories play out in blocks of threes – pages from a book, lines from a play; colour drenched and folding into one another, the narrative flows through teenage angst and narcissism, irony and sexual awakening.
Through his visual, coming-of-age tale, he inadvertently questions the impact of growing up on social media: vulnerable bodies are laid bare, portraits are taken with selfie-sticks, ideas are unrefined – yet within them, lies a creativity without pretence.
In ‘Cover Letter’, Skelton lists unique statements about himself, each adjective capitalised. Through emboldening these statements, and presenting them in the formality of a newspaper layout, he touches upon millennial concepts of humble bragging and selfies, and the struggle of seeking employment: “Cover Letter is the first analogue self-portraits I photographed and is a lookbook of myself and why I am the best person to hire, due to how good I look. The writing was an interesting experience, as it’s a lot harder than you think, to think of purely positive words to describe yourself. Naturally this is deeply ironic series of images, but I find it fun to exploit what I would love to say in an interview (and can’t), but can through photography.”
This satirical aesthetic is no more apparent than in his garden based self-portraits: surrounded by flowers and in a floral swimsuit, there is something very quaint, very ‘British summer-time’ about them. A whimsical nod to Instagram images of friends in exotic, envy-inducing locales – “I thought it would be fun to recreate a glamorous paradise in my parent’s small back garden with the use of my nana’s bathing suit” explains Skelton, who’s dad assisted him on the shoot by ensuring his shots remained in focus – and by pointing the hose at him. He describes the impromptu shoot as “full of humour, as we only had an hour to shot before my mum came home from work and told me off for being in a ladies swimsuit in front of the neighbours.”
Tentative steps into adulthood, through budding sexuality and self-identity, are a prevailing conceit in his work: the literal wrapped in dark metaphors. His July diary depicts graphic stick man sex and scrawled notes – perhaps reminiscing on the past, or looking to the future.
In his formal diptych portraits, he features himself and an anonymous, naked figure; in the other, an anonymous, naked figure represents both his sexuality and an unnamed man. Questioning images that elude to the journey of pubescence to maturity, of discovering and accepting one’s orientation, and the importance interactions with others have upon these experiences. “My own sexuality is something which I have yet to discover, so I wanted to explore these feelings I have experienced of desire, frustration, and all the deeply overwhelming feelings and thoughts that come with the territory of being in love or in lust” offered Skelton, citing the curative practice of photography, “I seek a lot of refuge in my work, when problems occur that are to do with love, relationships and sex – work can always give you pleasure.”
Ryan Skelton features in Issue 05 of PYLOT Magazine, available to buy online and in selected retailers from the 7th of October.
Photography © Ryan Skelton