Portraits and Conversations Between Men, about Strength and Masculinity

"The further we explore alternate identities, the more space it allows for those of us that occupy traditional identities to breathe a little bit."

"Body issues with men tends to not be a thing that we talk about. But at the same time, masculinity is tied very closely to muscles and performance and being able to physically accomplish things."

"Growing up, being a man meant not quickly or immediately admitting to any fault; being strong, being better, being persistent. It meant this grin-and-bear-it kind of attitude, and all of the people that I was looking to, and aspiring to, were like that."

"Because my mom was adamant about showing my brothers and I what it means to be man, we got an insider's view—a woman’s approach to ideal masculinity. She was always really hammering home this idea of character—she never said that word, but it was a whole bunch of, 'Do what you say. Don't let people push you around. Defending yourself. If you go out with somebody, you fight with them, too; you don’t run away from no fight. Pay your debts. Protect your sister.'"

"I think I’ve always felt like I didn't fit in in terms of being a male. It was very confusing—I felt like I didn't have much mentorship growing up around that. My father was present…he provided, but didn't give me the support I needed to feel confident as a man."


There are the words that we’ve learned, and words we choose, that reinforce daily the definition of what it means to be a man. Words that build ego and hide insecurity. Nicknames. Phrases that mask vulnerability—often with humor. Words intended to characterize and categorize. We hear these words, we internalize them, and then do what every manly man is supposed to do: avoid talking about them, or how they make us feel.

But we do feel them. We project them. We absorb them, and adopt many of them as our own. We shut down, give in and eventually find that we’re boxed in by stereotypes of ourselves, extending out into our families, relationships, and the world around us.

This project is simply a prompt for conversation; an invitation to dialogue about how we see ourselves, and how that impacts the ways we  see, talk, and think about others.  It’s something we can do in any setting, on any day, and in that, it’s a frustratingly simple concept. But all of this is awkward, and vulnerable, and…well, beautiful, and that’s just not something manly men are taught to engage.

Let’s change that.


Ways to Participate

  • Start a conversation.
    Seriously, this is the easiest action to take. Just open up a dialog with a male friend. Here’s an easy prompt: Where did you learn how to be a man?
  • Share a story.
    Write out an experience that’s challenged your definition of masculinity, open up about a childhood nickname that still triggers an insecurity, maybe share an experience in starting a conversation, as mentioned above. As the project grows, we’ll find ways to weave in these stories.
  • Schedule an interview and portrait session.
    Need a little help teasing out your words? Let’s set up a time to talk, and take a few photos. Sessions average about two hours–drop a note in the form below and I’ll reach out with more info on what to expect.

Ways to Support

  • Sponsor the project.
    This work is personal, time intensive, and requires some hard costs—studio rental, for example. Recognition of both monetary and in-kind sponsorship is open for discussion.
  • Buy some prints.
    Not from this project…that’d be a little invasive, no? But prints from several fine art series are available for purchase in the Paprika Print Shop, and by decorating your space, you’ll be helping to support more people-focused projects like this one.
  • Commission the studio.
    Own a business in need of story-driven commercial imagery? Need a new headshot? Product photos? Paprika Studios can help, and as with the prints, proceeds from client work also help support personal projects.

Have a different idea? Let’s talk.


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The Words We Use is a personal project of James Collier, and is produced by Paprika Studios, both based in Brooklyn, New York. For questions, collaborations, or just to get something off of your chest, drop a line using the form here, and James will reach out to connect further.