Kòktèl – the Haitian Creole word for cocktail – is a beautiful body of work by Zarita Zevallos in which she explores the diversity of masculinity. And as a woman, the Haitian photographer chose to let black men speak for themselves.

Her work juxtaposes the grayscale-filtered bodies of her subjects against bright backgrounds, as it draws inspiration from the personal stories that black men shared with her. She represents their frustration, conflict and identities through colourful threads that bend, twist and expand around them.

“It’s very important for me to give men a place to share their reality with the world, whether it be pain, happiness, freedom or rejection. Each picture expresses an emotion that I imagined men going through during the search for their own personality. There is anger, confusion, childishness, sexiness, being trapped, introspective, in control and chaotic. I wanted to express those emotions with colour and movement.”

The former architect started her Vogue-published photographic journey as a landscape photographer two years ago and moved on to portraiture last year. She told #Trending that as much as she enjoyed landscape work, she didn’t feel like she was adding anything to the world.

‘Hypermasculinity prevents us men from being our true selves.’

“I started photography around the same time I opened my eyes to what type of world and society I was living in, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement as well. Since then, I chose to use the medium to create awareness – not that there isn’t any – but I find that many people are attracted to “beauty”. What other way to capture people’s attention than to create intricate pieces in the hope that the work will not only move them, but also denounce, educate, create awareness and incite a movement or change?”

While she was shooting Kòktèl, she adds, “the government in Haiti passed a law threatening the gay community. With the number of problems that my country has, I still can’t believe that they find time to make matters worse.”

Zevallos, who is based in New York, used the post-produced motif of thread to signify the feeling of being trapped and the idea of building identity. She worked with men identifying with a range of gender expressions and sexualities.

And adding the thread?

‘Well, first of all, masculinity is promoted differently among different race groups.’

“I printed out all the pictures on paper, then I went on YouTube and learnt how to sew. I paused and played videos countless times to understand the techniques. Power to designers for creating those patterns. It’s not as easy as it looks,” she explains.

“After a month of ripping up paper out of frustration, choosing which colours would go on what picture and what design I should keep, I was finally done; I took pictures of the results and brought them back to Photoshop. I removed the paper and left the thread over the digital pictures to keep a high resolution and got rid of the rest. The process is time consuming but always worth it.”

This series reveals the trauma that takes place when men don’t stay inside their socially prescribed boxes. In the LGBTI community, black men face a double prejudice of homophobia and racism.