Contemplations of the Heart - A Book of the Male Spirit
For a brief moment, I was tempted to open this review with: "Trying to find the perfect holiday gift for the hard-to-buy-for Radical Faerie on your shopping list? Look no further than Contemplations of the Heart: A Book of the Male Spirit by Peter Grahame."
But pigeonholing the book in this way diminishes the gentle power and subtle beauty contained within its 96 pages. In this slim volume of photography, digital imaging, and verse, multi-talented artist Peter Grahame has assembled an eloquent, sensual, and soulful celebration of the gay male spirit.
In his insightful introduction, Grahame - who calls himself "a curious searcher, looking for meaning" - defines "Contemplations of the Heart" as a work of "intuitive consciousness": "ordinary guys in extraordinary settings...dream images." And dreamlike images are precisely what he has crafted. The book contains 84 photos, some digitally enhanced and embellished with artistic flair, most capturing everyday men in simple, natural beauty.
For the record: yes, the men in the photos are naked. But "Contemplations of the Heart" is really not that kind of book. While a few of the images are undeniably erotic, Grahame is clearly focused on not objectifying his models sexually. Since each photograph is strikingly original and creative, it’s almost as if he’s presenting their naked bodies as reflections of their unique inner worlds.
What I most enjoyed in this book is how the guys on these pages are not professional models. They are ordinary men of all colors, ages, and sizes (Grahame actually apologizes for not being able to include a differently-abled model) - and this is the most powerful celebration within this book. There’s no emphasis on "pretty youth", no pandering to this obsession that has taken over media in general - and gay media with a vengeance - that all models must be 19 and ridiculously, unrealistically attractive. The guys in "Contemplations of the Heart" are infinitely sexier, earthier, and more real than any pretty-boy cover model.
Grahame has also written meditation-like accompaniment to his collection of images. The words are, by turns, inspiring and challenging, asking us to confront our ideas of self-image and sexuality. With thoughtful verse, the author is urging us to let go of our own internalized homophobia and celebrate the beauty of the gay male spirit. And in doing this, he’s also eradicating our aforementioned need to objectify one another in a sexual way. Just be, he is saying: "Magic is in every moment we live."