Text JF. Pierets Photos Magnus Arrevad
Danish-born Arrevad spent five years documenting the international, subterranean world of male performers, burlesque, go-go dancers, cabaret singers and porn stars. The journey would take him to New York, Berlin, Paris, London, Copenhagen as well as County Sligo in Ireland and a trailer park in Tacoma. His journey resulted in an exhibition and a book called Boy Story.
Arrevad explains: “The series features performers from eighteen countries, living all around the world, in the places you’d probably least expect, but with a sense of community and mutual respect unlike anything I’ve ever known before. I had no intrinsic link to this world when I embarked on the project. It all started quite by accident, in a basement in Copenhagen, on the night of a Gay Pride parade, which I was photographing in a completely different context”.
Boy Story was shot on black and white film. “I’m a traditionalist, in the sense that I believe in the quality and beauty of film. The prints are handmade on the very best quality fiber paper. Digital just doesn’t look as good”. Arrevad decided against photographing his subjects’ performances, choosing instead to focus on the performers off-stage, often in their most vulnerable moments, trying out a new act, applying make-up or getting into costume. “I was fascinated by the processes and preparations through which the performers visibly liberated themselves from the roles they observed through the daylight hours. They had invented a world in their own image, with their own gods and their own ceremonies. It wasn’t just about sexuality, though of course this was a large part. It was about being. The application of make-up each night was one in which a mask was taken off, not put on. I wanted to document this process of liberation”.
Once the masks were off, the stage awaited, “The performances are debauched, magical and often hilarious, but underpinning it all is grave sense of purpose; to bring the dream of oneself into being. A million times I’ve heard people saying, just be yourself. To which the only sensible answer is, which one? We act different selves to our parents, our friends, our lovers and to ourselves. The self we act to ourselves is the most interesting, because in most cases, the sense we have is that we’re too scared to express it, to explore it in public. Figuring out oneself is a process. What the subjects of Boy Story have allowed me to do is to watch them constructing their inner selves”.
The images of these often very private moments, push the viewer into the position of voyeur, a role in which Arrevad himself felt perfectly comfortable with, even to the point of transition, inserting himself into some of the images. “The only two modes of documentation possible are voyeurism and participation. Either one’s peeking in, or one’s trooping in like a marauding elephant and becoming an unseen part of the subject. This idea of neutral, objective documentation is nonsense. Even the unseen eye has a gaze, has a charge”. None of the images were staged. “It was all spontaneous. There are a couple of images in which the performers are playing up because they could see a camera in the room. But I certainly never choreographed any of it”.
‘A million times I’ve heard people saying, just be yourself. To which the only sensible answer is, which one?’
While the world of male performers is now a global community, it does nevertheless have roots in a specific time and place. Berlin during the Weimar years, its hedonistic nightlife and its vibrant arts scene, looms large for many of the performers, as it does for the photographer himself. “I saw Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s ‘Berlin Night Scenes’ series at MOMA in New York before I took any of the pictures for Boy Story. I’m not sure that I realized it at the time, but it opened my eyes to a world I had a previously seen little glimpses of, both in terms of art and life, and to the extent to which, properly performed, both become the same thing. In short, the series seduced me, and probably set in motion a lot of what followed. I loved the sense of the performance of life being even more dramatic than that which took place on stage. Weimar is my time. I felt the same with Otto Dix’s portraits, particularly his portrait of Anita Berber, which created an imaginary world for me that I wanted more than anything to be a part of. I loved the painting, and read upon the woman behind it, which made it, and its world, the most erotic and exciting place. And so I moved to Berlin to establish what legacy of Weimar remained. It surpassed, but was completely different from my dreams – more real, somehow, less glamorous, dirtier, but lit with magic, communicating through gestures over cigarettes with piano men and drag queens, lacking a mutual language. Boy Story followed the same trajectory into heaven”.
The exhibition is curated by Michael Diemar and is presented in association with Bloomsbury-Estates, Bloomsbury Cultural Renaissance and Red Room Industries.The book ‘Boy Story’ is published by Red Room Books ISBN 978-1-943278-43-5.
“If you don’t see femmes as queers, it’s because you choose to not see us. You are invested in our erasure. We are here. We have always been here.” A strong quote, coming from Dulce Garcia, AKA Fierce Femme, one of the participants in Femme…..read more
Belle Ancell is a queer community photographer living in Canada. Amongst her series there is “Unveiled”, portraits of the Vancouver Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. In-depth photographs and representations of people who are, just like…..read more
Chubby Vogue Divas is an ongoing photography project by artist and activist Charmain Carrol. Her being an activist started in the 90s when black lesbians went through a phase where their parents were not accepting their children’s sexual orientation…..read more
Born in Chile, raised in Europe, and with an advanced training in photography, Claudia González has spent the last 2 years working on her project called Reassign. In order to make this series, Gonzàlez joined forces with Mariela Castro’s sexuality…..read more
In her series ‘Butch’, photographer Meg Allen shows a variety of women who fall under the category of more masculine than feminine. Over the years people have been given different names to lesbians, and being butch is yet another flavor…..read more
‘Well, these aren’t your typical flannel, mullet, boot wearing butches. This new art book pushes the Butch-definition beyond its seams. Packed with fashion forward pictures that are vivid, dramatic and provocative. These gender-bending bois will……read more
Scott Pasfield celebrates diversity in this first-ever photographic survey of gay men in America. Stereotypes are laid to rest and an intimate, honest picture of contemporary gay life is revealed through stunning personal portraits and narratives of 140 gay…..read more
From 2003 until 2008, Charlotte Lybeer photographed gated communities and actual “theme parks” in the US, South Africa, Europe, China and the Arab Emirates. ‘The success of these ‘enclaves’ proves that in a society without boundaries, we still…..read more
Northern Albanian women, faced with a culture that subjugates females, live and dress as men in order to provide for their families. These sworn virgins took a vow of chastity, wear male clothing and live as men in the patriarchal northern…..read more
For thirty years photographer Lourdes Grobet has penetrated the world of one of the most popular sports and deep-seated traditions in Mexico: Lucha Libre-wrestling. She documented the lives of the fighters inside and outside of the ring. Lucha Libre…..read more
Heavily set, rugged and fiercely hyper-masculine, these are males who convey strength, identity and are an ever-growing subculture of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) population. Welcome to the “bear” community. Evolving in the…..read more
Photographer Nathalie Daoust first broke onto the scene in 1997 while photographing the themed rooms of the Carlton Arms Hotel in New York. This project, her first solo exhibition, was published into a book, New York Hotel Story. Since then…..read more