When his brother entered an American fraternity, photographer Andrew Moisey  discovered a secret universe. For seven years, he captured the daily lives of those young men. He just released The American Fraternity, a frightening yet fascinating tale.

For seven years, Andrew Moisey documented the secret world of American fraternities. Those non-mixed brotherly organisations are widespread in North America. While they ease one’s integration into the university world, fraternities are also known for their controversial customs.

“I had my camera with me all the time I just took it to the fraternity when I went to visit my brother, Andrew tells us. A few years later, someone told me the fraternity had been shut down. I went over there to see if it was true, and the doors were swinging open, like a hurricane had moved through. I went inside a sacred room I’d never been allowed into and saw this ritual book on the floor.” Object both profane and holy, this book fascinated Andrew, who decided to use it as a pillar for his photographic project. The concept of his book was born: a modern tale, embedded in this secret journal, proofs of the excesses of fraternities.

An oath of purity

“I think that there is something beautiful about fraternities and something fundamentally wrong about them”, Andrew says. Those non-mixed organisations have existed in the United States for almost 200 years, and have formed many political leaders. At a time when Donal Trump’s presidency and the #MeToo movement gave rise to heated debates on social media, it had become essential for Andrew to highlight those ancient traditions. The last pages of The American Fraternity even reveal names of famous American men who are part of this privileged sphere. “People aren’t aware that so many American leaders were in fraternities, he adds. I thought this list would help people imagine the past and future leaders of our country when they looked at my pictures.”

Scrolling through The American Fraternity, the reader may discover young men,  euphoric and free, having fun. By their sides, a more chilling view: humiliated new recruits, unconscious women thrown on beds, or even song lyrics evoking sexual abuse. A representation of toxic masculinity in which the members of those societies evolve, reflection of a world whose limits blur and get erased, replaced by camaraderie. A behaviour hidden behind an oath of purity that each member has to recite when entering the fraternity. “I wanted to stress this. It was striking that the male culture with the worst reputation in the country was also the one that took the most upstanding oaths.”

Dark and intimate, The American Fraternity reveals the excesses of those masculine organisations. A book blending together freedom and danger. “Wildness is beautiful until there is collateral damage”, Andrew concludes.

The American Fraternity, Daylight Books editions, $45, 144 p.

© Andrew Moisey