T Magazine: Beloved Object & Amorous Subject, Revisited, by Armand Limnander

It’s hard to bring a fresh perspective to photographic portraiture, but Paul Mpagi Sepuya proves that sometimes the simplest approach yields the most rewarding results. His book, “Beloved Object & Amorous Subject, Revisited,” (Envoy) is straightforward enough: a series of shirtless young men — Sepuya’s friends, boyfriends and collaborators — pose deadpan against a plain white wall in his bedroom. The images are technically impeccable, but it is the subtle changes in mood and expression that draw us in: who exactly are these guys, and why do we care?

The book’s title was inspired by Roland Barthes’ “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments,” his 1977 impressionistic treatise on desire. Sepuya’s work allows him to explore the subject while categorizing special relationships that have affected him through the years. Seen together, the pictures feel ritualistic in their repetition, but they also offer a voyeuristic frisson: the viewer is left to imagine what exactly transpired between the characters. Only Sepuya has the answers, but he’s not interested in revealing them — for him, this is just the beginning of a story that can be developed indefinitely.

 

Armand Limnander

Published in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, April 4, 2008