Through My Lens: Black Boy Joy

Through My Lens is a new community series that features the first-person stories behind photos from across the East Coast.

Robin Gislain’s photo series, Unscripted Melanin, explores the intersection of race & masculinity.

How do we approach the vulnerability of men? Especially Black men, when choosing to express themselves artistically. That's what my Unscripted Melanin photo series tries to unscramble. Black Boy Joy is a piece from that series.

Black Boy Joy is a photo from the series Unscripted Melanin. (Robin Gislain)

There is this whole idea made by society on what a man should be, what a man should look like and how a man should act like. Especially in the Rwandan culture, where I'm from, and in African culture in general, a man is expected to suppress their emotions or hide their distress, maintain an appearance of hardness.

In this image, we see a Black man at the intersection of these expectations for masculinity and the racial burdens that are set upon us because of our skin colour. It suffocates our joy to live, our peace, and pushes us into a space of suppressing how we feel inside. 

As the Unscripted Melanin series developed, I decided I would shoot this concept with someone who does not have modelling experience, someone who is not used to men being portrayed this way. I wanted to catch a genuine reaction and an interaction that is unscripted. 

Asking the subject go bare-chested was a spontaneous choice while on set that allowed us to step into an uncomfortable zone, to break down the built up walls in our minds on what a man can be or how he is supposed to look on camera.- Robin Gislain, Photographer

This shot stood out because of the model's genuine smile and the way it captured a moment where the subject was at ease, and starting to feel that it is okay for a man to be in a vulnerable position to express themselves artistically or in any other medium.

I think the most important lesson from this series is that vulnerability is often so misconceived that men in society continuously hear messages of "Don't be controversial. Don't be unique. Don't do anything 'crazy' or 'stupid' or 'selfish'. But at the core vulnerability is consciously choosing to NOT hide your emotions or desires from others."

Men need to start realizing that it is okay to be vulnerable and not let themselves be bound by the toxic masculinity norms. Understanding that there is no shame in doing so and letting people in your space to get to know and experience the real you.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Robin Gislain


Robin Gislain is a photographer and art director from Rwanda, now based in Charlottetown and Montreal. You can find him on Instagram at @iamgessyy.