Like many gay men searching for intimacy in the modern day, the photographer Matthew Morrocco has found his share of it online. But the glossy Adonis of the Instagram era is not his type. He prefers older fellows, some of them more than twice his age. When he was twenty, he began courting such strangers on the Internet. With their consent, he photographed the ensuing trysts. The year was 2010, and his ambition, he writes in the afterword to “Complicit,” a new collection of portraits, from Matte Editions, was to preserve the queer history that an era of marriage equality, in all its progressive promise, is making increasingly remote. Many of his companions had survived both the AIDS crisis and heights of homophobia unknown to younger generations. Their very company, he writes, was an instruction in the art of persistence.
“Complicit” presents an ethnography of men who have matured past their physical prime, perhaps, but not beyond erotic interest. Morrocco’s models sometimes appear as bashful fragments, their limp forms sunk in a sofa or snarled around a tree. More often they flaunt their undress: one strikes a come-hither pose, and another snubs the camera, as though to test its dedication. The photographer himself emerges as a spectral presence in the series, invading the frame, on occasion, to heed his subjects’ desires. He fondles the jaw of one, paws the buttocks of another. In the collection, he writes of learning from these men how to seduce, to age gracefully, to seize the past: “The education I received outweighed anything I had experienced before.”
In our current moment, which is newly vigilant against the imbalances of power, Morrocco’s celebration of sex between young and old men risks inducing discomfort. But “Complicit” presents the photographer and his models in tender symbioses. In the spirit of his collection’s title, Morrocco bares as much skin as his subjects do, as if to mimic their vulnerability. In interviews, he has said that he took visual cues from the amorous languor of nineteenth-century French portraiture, but many of his images recall the complex perspective of Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” a work from an earlier era. As in the famed Spanish painting, a carefully placed mirror often unsteadies the vantage of Morrocco’s images. His camera work casts the viewer, by turn, as a participant and an interloper.
Take, for instance, a scene of the photographer lounging on a couch with a bearded man named Rod. The image includes two nested reflections. The first is from a large wall mirror that overwhelms the center of the shot, its gilt frame resting askew on the hardwood, concealing Rod’s body and Morrocco’s legs behind it. Within this reflection there appears a second, smaller mirror, located somewhere in the vicinity of the viewer, and containing the cloudy reflection of what at first appears to be a third man. Someone enticed by the intimacy of the series might find himself startled—is that me?—only to realize that it is Morrocco’s face, mysteriously displaced to shield the image of his muse.