Text JF. Pierets Photos Paul Buijs
Young, reckless and fresh from the Arnhem art academy. In order to find a suitable subject for his graduation project, Paul Buijs went where no other student would follow; the shady underworld of gay darkrooms and sex parties. Hovering unsettlingly between fiction and reality, documentary style and art photography, Buijs’ work is of an unedited realism. What normally stays in the shades is now brightly lit up in an uncomfortable, confronting way. It reveals a curious and previously unexamined aspect of the gay scene, and provides a window into the collision of the club life, kinky sex and dark cellars that color the streets of Amsterdam.
Paul just returned from his exhibition and lecture at the Berlin Porn Film Festival when we meet. He’s once again flabbergasted by the way people react when confronted with his pictures. “It’s weird to experience that people are still to be shocked since it was never my intention to provoke. When searching for ideas that would suit my graduation project, I was a frequent visitor of the Warmoesstraat and the Regulierdwarsstraat in Amsterdam. The gay areas, so to speak. I started to take pictures and soon my teachers pointed out that I was on to something.”
During that time, Paul got very much intrigued by an article called ‘Life When The party is over’. Written by a psychologist who had made a study on gay men in their mid 30’s – 40’s and published in Wink magazine. He stated that a lot of gay men weren’t able to enjoy their teenage years because of their family for whom they only came out of the closet when they were already in their 20’s. Due to the social impact of such oppression, they started their outgoing life when most straight people in society started to settle.
A phenomenon that in a lot a cases leads to heavy party life and the drug use that often goes along with it. Not to speak of a low career expectation. “This article explained what I questioned: what lies behind the surface of that fashionable, sexual and glamourous appearance. What was behind the mask of the people involved in this scene?”
‘By asking to wear a mask I wanted to underline the oneness of a certain scene.’
Still in the stream of perfectioning his art school assignment, his teachers advised him to focus on his signature. Being a huge fan of the Disney and populair culture he swiftly found a symbiosis between the personages that populate his work and the alienation of mainstream entertainment. “All Disney characters are drawn in a certain, monotonic way. They all have the same glance, facial expression and are very similar in style. It stroke me that a lot of my fellow party people wore the same Fred Perry shirt, the same Bikkemberg shoes and had the same hair-do. By asking to wear a mask I wanted to underline the oneness of a certain scene, by making it half a mask, I made a pairing between the monotony of the public statement and their own private personality. “
With the best will in the world you can’t say that Buijs’ work is approachable or reassuring, hence the numerous galleries who rejected his work for being too shocking and the multiple reactions of viewers who found his images to confronting, to surreal, to raw and to bright. “I had no idea my work would have such an impact. I have the upmost respect for my models and I always show them their picture before I make it public because they still can be recognized despite of the mask and I shoot them while we both experience an autobiographical moment of obsession and dependency. The images are viewed like a private journal made public and it works out to be a little too much to handle for a lot of spectators. For example I got fired as a teacher because they thought my work to be too dangerous for the children and their parents. I don’t quite get it, but let me tell you that I’m too passionate and too engaged to just give up. I invariably believe that somewhere, sometime my work will be acknowledged so I keep on going”.
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