Between 2008 and 2009, Natasha Caruana went on 80 dates with married men. She usually managed to take one or two illicit photographs with a disposable camera. A far cry from any glamorous excitement an adulterous affair might entail, her snapshots show the remnants of a cafe meal, a soiled coffee cup, the lid of a takeaway food container.
Caruana stumbled upon a website that connects people seeking extramarital affairs. Fascinated by the internet’s impact on modern relationships – offline as well as on – she delved into this underworld dating scene, clocking up encounters with over 50 men over a period of 18 months. By the end, she was often meeting three or four a day.
The Married Man appears as a black-clad figure disappearing through a street door, the sleeve of a tatty jumper, or a pair of suited knees in front of an ice bucket. Hands, young and old, sign credit card receipts, clutch a rain-soaked umbrella, dangle keys, fiddle nervously with cutlery, or gently clasp the photographer’s own hand.
Caruana says the project began in part as catharsis. But it became a performance. The deceit these men engaged in with respect to their wives and families was echoed by the photographer’s own masquerade. As her dates acted out their idea of the man playing away from home, so Caruana assumed the character each sought to complete the fantasy. The tabletop between them became a stage.
What surprised her was how often she found herself listening to men talk at length about their wives, about loneliness, or feeling like a spare part in the family unit. In the end, Caruana found many desired nothing more than companionship and a sympathetic ear.