I use it to describe my relationship with technology, when I’m impatient with the speed of my laptop. Or to express my feelings about an unsweetened cup of coffee someone has dared to give me.
As a 4-letter word, it’s useful. It’s also lazy.
We talk about hate crimes; acts of violence and savagery that leave us shaking our heads and questioning the state of the world we live in.
Hate. In every day conversation, I compare slow broadband speed to people being gunned-down in a nightclub because of who they love. It’s an imperfect word. I use it in connection with my distaste or mild inconvenience. That feels wrong somehow. But the problem with language sometimes is it can feel hollow and inadequate. Especially when we are expressing something that it is almost impossible to comprehend.
For every atrocity, we have a list of words we reach for to talk about them. Words like;
It feels like, in our current world, we call on this vocabulary with depressing regularity.
This year in the U.K. since the result of the EU referendum, there has been a sharp increase in reported hate crime. Not hugely surprising given the language of intolerance and bigotry that was the backbone of the ‘Leave’ campaign. In effect hate speech has gone mainstream.
I have no idea what happens next. We have reached a point where, if what the mass media reports is to be believed, talking about tolerance and embracing diversity is once again a minority point of view.
The public conversation has moved quickly to one that has ceased to discuss people of different cultures, religion and sexuality with respect. It has been replaced with language that is cruel and ugly.
But though it sometimes feels futile, those of us who believe in some as important as the basic human right to dignity for all people, have to keep talking. Hell, we have to keep shouting. Words do matter.
Because when we feel our voices are silenced and we are too afraid to speak is when the world we are part of will be in far more trouble than it already is.
This article is in response to the current open call for #FuckHate. Submissions close on 31st October – after which a zine / digital publication (with profits going to the NoH8 campaign) will be produced. More here.
In a short space of time, Olivier Botta has won many admirers for his haunting, thought provoking work. What’s surprising though is not the attention he has started to receive but that Olivier has only recently started taking pictures.
Richard Glen: Hi Olivier, thanks for taking the time out to speak to me – how long have you been taking photographs?
Olivier Botta: I am a really new amateur photographer… I have only just started to talk about myself as a photographer. I’ve only been taking photos for a year – and I really only started to think about it as a work or as something that I hope tells a story in the last 2 to 3 months.
RG: But it’s obvious you have a real gift. You mention telling stories. Much of your work to date has been self-portraits. Was that a conscious choice?
OB: No… I had no choice. As I told you before, I have only been taking photos for a really short time. I had to tame the machine and learn to be comfortable with it. That’s the first thing.
The second: I am very shy and had to work on myself to ask somebody to be in front me and my camera. Why me as model too? I guess to be my own model is a sort of therapy on my body and what I see of it.
RG: It’s funny you say that as I am fascinated about the way you use your own body, as you are naked in a lot of the pictures you have taken. But you often look very exposed, very vulnerable. It seems a very important part of the stories you want to tell.
OB: I like to see the body as the truth – the part of you that you can’t hide. There is so much told in the behaviour or attitudes of your body.
But on the contrary, you can make it says things that are not… I mean for myself, I am shy, but I think that it is not what we feel when viewing my pics
RG: The idea of using the body as the truth is very strong in your work. I personally love the way you use your body framed in a much larger space. There is a really strong sense of sadness and isolation in your work.
OB: I am very happy that you feel that! But I would say nostalgia. Yearning.
RG: Nostalgia? Is it for a place or time? Or something less clear-cut?
OB: No, nothing with the time or place – I don’t really know why.
RG: You said that only recently have you started to think about your photography as something that tells a story. And I think it was the BodyBag series, and especially the levitation photographs that first made a lot of people sit up and pay attention. Where did that idea come from?
OB: I like the idea of the body unconstrained. An idea like liberty in the space. As a child, I often dreamt that I flew. I guess that, in my work, I now take my revenge on gravity
RG: It’s such a striking series of photographs. Are you proud of them and the response they’ve had?
OB: Proud – that’s not it, more surprised – I did not think that I would have so many responses, comments and likes.
RG: But people are definitely responding to your work. Do you have ideas for where you want to go next?
OB: Nope! I will go on with the BodyBag series. And then maybe an exhibition!
RG: That’s brilliant! Do you think now you have a little more confidence you’ll feature other people or will you still use yourself heavily in your art?
OB: I used Fred, my husband, in the BodyBag series and my son-in-law. I have other shoots soon too. No subject particularly… but, I guess I will make other BodyBags!
RG: And I can’t wait to see them!
Thank you so much Olivier.
Based in Lille, Northern France Miguel Nochair has steadily built a following for his quirky, distinctive style of photography. His work features a diverse type of male types, both in terms of physical types and ages and combines sometimes graphic nudity with highly playful elements.
I recently sat down with Miguel in his studio to discuss his art and how he developed his interest in photography.
Richard Glen: What fascinates me firstly is the story of how you started taking photographs and how it was almost by accident.
Miguel Nochair: Accidentally on purpose. I was in love with a dear friend of mine and I took up photography to impress him. I stayed in it because I liked it and realised I was good at it. It took me a long while to admit I was good at it…
RG: That’s an interesting point. At what point did it stop being something you were doing to impress someone else and start being something you did for yourself?
MN: I’d say when I moved to London. I was not in love with him anymore and I was going out everyday and taking a lot of pictures.
There was a small competition, wildlife photography. I came runner-up and then I realised I was good at it.
RG: People know you now though as a photographer of men. Why did you start photographing guys? Was that your own interests or something you drifted into?
MN: It was a coincidence. I started advertising free photo-shoots on Scruff, Grindr and Growlr because I wanted to expand my portfolio so it was never going to be women anyway.
RG: But you’re not a typical physique photographer. Though there is quite a bit of nudity in your pictures, it’s not traditional beefcake imagery. What do you look for when you work with a model?
MN: I guess what I look for is both universes collide and explode. I do like when I have ideas and the other person has ideas. We can mix them together. Like the crazy photo-shoots of people wearing capes and with Power Rangers toys and naked with an erection. That’s where they are born.
RG: You mention toys. There are strange juxtapositions in your work and you bring together mismatched elements, like for example toy weapons or bits of costume. Tell me about that.
MN: Because I think that people should not grow up and give up on what they liked as kids if they still like it. I was often made fun of because I still loved Sailor Moon and Power Rangers when I was 18. I always refused to grow up in that sense. I want my outside to reflect my inside.
RG: So when you use these costumes and props, are you trying to find the childlike quality in adult men?
MN: I think there can be fantasy and nudity because it’s a bridge between worlds that is almost man made. You can find that in Japanese animation but its still rare in Western civillisation.
RG: There are references to manga, cartoons & comic books in your work. But when you say fantasy, is it your fantasy or something personal you try to tap into with your subjects?
MN: I mean it’s fantasy as a genre. All these heroes we had when we were young, they do grow up and they do have a sexuality. I want to show them as human beings because they cannot be Goody Two Shoes all their life. God knows I’ve tried!
RG: I must say that you do photograph quite a few different types of guys.
MN: It’s not that I’m not picky but everyone is beautiful and everyone has a story to tell. I now feel I’m good enough to find that in the photoshoot with one person. You can be thin, you can be muscly, you can be a bear, you can be whatever you are. I will take pictures of you.
RG: So what next for you?
MN: What I would like to do is an exhibition and I kind of have a project with t shirts… Use my as they’ve been called House Models and have them wear a shirt with the others face on it. I think there’s a market for it.
And I’d like to shoot women. With a camera. Not with a gun…!!
RG: Hahaha! I did realise you meant that!! And whatever you do next I have no doubt many people will be watching with interest.
HOMOSURREALISM / homo.se.re.al.ism noun
a 21st century art form in which a gay artist or gay writer combines unrelated images or events in a very strange and dreamlike way
Homosurrealism. The name of both an artistic movement and a magazine. Founded by Atlanta (USA) based artist Jack Sanders and now in its fifth edition, it is a showcase for international gay artists drawing on the dialogue of surrealist art from a distinctively Queer perspective.
Recently I sat down with Jack to discuss more about the magazine, his influences and vision.
Richard Glen: Here at Obscured we are big fans of your project. Where did the inspiration for Homosurrealism came from? Because you, like us, have a very clear remit.
Jack Sanders: I have been interested in unusual artforms since an early age I think that my major inspiration would be Kenneth Anger (http://www.kennethanger.org/). I met Ken when I was about 16 and he gave me his address and said we could be pen pals. I was surprised because I thought he would be mean
RG: Well, as pen pals Kenneth Anger go is not too shabby! And it’s clear that his use of juxtapositions and multiple media was a massive influence.
JS: Yes, the music and lack of dialog was interesting to me. I was also interested in his interest in Aleister Crowley and how he incorporated magick into his films. I didn’t know who Crowley was at that age but was turned onto him by Kenneth
RG: In terms of your interest in surrealism, especially the dream state, I can see those influences strongly in your work and the magazine.
JS: Absolutely. I am interested in dream-like images but more interested in things that cannot be. That make no sense.
I get inspiration from meditating on things I would like to see. It’s sort of a dream-like state but I don’t get much inspiration from actual dreams. I do this at night and it gets very psychedelic sometimes.
RG: So I know you have discussed Homosurrealism as being an art movement which is relevant now. Is it more about the power of consciousness and imagination than dream?
JS: Yes! The little manifesto I wrote describes it as just that. A 21st century art movement. Man Ray had written that artistic masters get inspiration from a muse or nature, etc. Normal artists like most of us have to create it out of or imagination. In other words, it’s a thought process mixed with imagination.
RG: So, Homosurrealism – my understanding is that it is taking the language of surrealist art and adding our experience as gay men to it. I think of artists like John Waiblinger and Bruce La Bruce, both I know you have featured, who use this as central to their practice?
JS: There seem to be a lot of definitions of surrealism. Some say it is two or more totally unrelated ideas that combine to form an unusual and unique piece of art. To me this is only a part of Homosurrealism. To me it is all of the above but transforming these ideas into a beautiful piece of art. The challenge might be taking pornographic images like John and creating a unique, unusual and beautiful work.
RG: There is some stunning, diverse work there from a broad spectrum of artists. What is it that you personally respond to? What do you look for?
JS: I look for some homoerotic imagery. Totally subjective, I know, but I love inanimate homoerotic images like boxing gloves, tools, belts, hoodies, skateboards. I am not too keen on sex organs as an artistic expression. But I would love to see somebody able to tackle the topic in a creative way.
And emotion and movement are very important. Faces, eyes
RG: And from that, I get the strong impression that your work, the magazine and Homosurrealism as a movement is more engaged in eroticism than being overtly sexual?
JS: That’s a good point. I mean Bruce is definitely overtly sexual and I love his work. I don’t want Homosurrealism to shy away from real sex and real men. It’s a very thin line I guess.
RG: I think empathy and, as you say, emotion is a big factor. If you feel that desire and sexuality is treated in a very human way.
JS: Yes – if you look at the work of Piotr Urbaniak he incorporates dick into almost all of his art. Most of the guys have their zippers down and their dicks hanging out. But to me its art and its homosurrealism.
RG: So in some ways, it seems about the gap between the sexual, and an honest expression of it, and the pornographic? I think of what you said earlier about John’s work which is reclaiming those images. And I see that as a thread in many other artists you feature.
JS: I am about the honest expression of gay love and gay sex. I want people to see the love and feel the love and creativity of the movement I have been told forever “Why don’t you paint women? The female form is so much more beautiful.” That is how the old surrealists felt, especially Man Ray. But as I said, this is a 21st century artform and the male body and soul is beautiful and should be celebrated. Not just in a bodybuilder way but in a transcendent way.
RG: Having seen the art you feature in the magazine I agree that it is a celebration of the male body and soul along with a very open agenda on what male beauty is. Speaking personally what do you consider male beauty to be ?
JS: I see male beauty as so many things. I have always craved masculinity. Not meaning straight, but strength. Not meaning lifting weights, but helping. The first time I noticed male beauty was this boy standing in front of me and he was sweating. His hair was wet. That’s male beauty. To me, it’s aggression, determination, pride.
Most of all, it’s wanting what you can never have. That is what beauty means to me
In an interesting twist I am very happy to introduce new Obscured writer, Richard Glen, as he interviews me. This was interview was originally executed for another publication however other pieces took priority and I thought it worth sharing through Obscured. Over to Richard…
Note: This article includes full nudity.
Jon Eland is a Leeds based photographer who has steadily built a strong reputation for intelligent, inventive male portraiture. 2014 has been his most prolific year to date and seen his work receive wider recognition, including a solo exhibition in his home city this summer which won much attention as well as some excellent reviews.
For his latest project, KY Guys, Jon has turned his sights across the Atlantic bringing a British sensibility to a series of portraits of men all hailing from the U.S. State of Kentucky, the result of a recent trip to the city of Louisville.
Richard Glen: How does a Yorkshireman wind up taking photographs in Kentucky?
Jon Eland: Back in 2010 I was running a Leeds-based photography group and we held an exhibition. At that exhibition a representative of the local council asked if we’d consider hosting a photographer from Louisville, Kentucky. After we clarified why Leeds is partnered with the city and that he was looking to capture some of Leeds to share with the good folk of his own city I said ‘sure… and how about one of us makes the return trip?’
After the council agreed to the idea, discussions were had and I was nominated to make the trip. I visited twice representing the city and my group in 2011 and 2012 and then took a break.
2014 saw me return entirely under my own steam essentially as a vacation and to see some of the many friends I’d made in Kentucky.
RG: It’s clearly a place you have great affection for. What is it that draws you back? The people clearly but it also sounds like it’s fast become a second home.
JE: Absolutely! It’s one of those places that, on the surface, looks like a normal American city and at the ‘big’ level a bit like my own. But once you peel away the top layer you get to an interesting liberal city with a strong blend of cultures and a great attitude to the arts.
RG: One of the things I love about KY Guys is it does feel very natural and unaffected. And the location is great. Where was it shot?
JE: The location is a unit situated close to the city centre that my friend, Michael, haw owned for a number of years. It’s been offices for most of it’s life initially for the tobacco industry. But he’s currently renovating it to be an AirBNB location. I loved it cos of the great natural light. It’s got 3 tall windows either side - both north and south facing.
RG: It looks a great space. Did it influence the style of the series? You mentioned the natural light and there is something very relaxed and at ease about the photographs that makes it feel different to the usual set of male nudes?
JE: That was intentional. In my previous visit I shot Alex (who also appears in KY Guys) in an alley and the light there was great. I’d seen some of Michael’s shots in the space and wanted to give it a go; having had limited experience with natural light nudes especially inside.
I intentionally stayed away from more traditional erotically charged imagery I wanted the guys to be themselves, relaxed with (hopefully) a hint of seduction. I also chose the non-commercial route of a mixture of guys. I’m not someone who believes in adhering to types or tribe-chasing so it was great to get a mix I just wish I had been there longer and got an even greater diversity.
RG: Yes, it is a pretty diverse series of guys that you’ve featured. How did you find them? I assume they’re all locals.
Yeah they’re all living within a 20 mile radius of the studio space. In preparation I contacted some through modelling sites, but the majority were guys I found through the mobile ‘dating’ apps so I guess I should thank Growlr and Scruff for the intros!
RG: Hahaha… Those apps have so many uses! But I guess that also means there are quite a few who had never modelled before?
JE: Yes the majority in fact. And, while there were some nerves, all the guys were fairly up for it.
I ensured they all knew they had as a minimum to get their shirts off, but many were quite happy to be completely naked. I’m guessing the unseasonably warm weather at the time helped (it was 30°+ in early Oct and I needed a/c to keep the place cool enough to work in!)
But feedback has been great all of them are still in touch with me many added to my extensive Louisville Facebook family.
I do wonder if some were taken in by the English charm and Yorkshire brogue though.
RG: You should ask them…! As someone who has also photographed many British chaps, and I know that this is a terribly general question, but did you find any difference between working with US and UK guys?
JE: I think Americans in general are brought up to put themselves ‘out there’ a bit more than we are and I think this helped with the attitude along with the concept of being offered free photos a bit more unusual in that city. I found it easier to convince them however I suspect my being from elsewhere made it easier for them too.
But once in front of the camera there was little difference in terms of response, attitude and personality.
RG: So a happy experience then?
JE: I think it was a great collaboration I learnt loads and the experience of working (and getting people to buy into your activities) in a city far from home is always scary but generally less of a challenge than you think. Of course the language barrier was a problem but these things you can get over.
Once someone’s naked it’s all about treating them with respect and keeping up the banter so you get the right expressions, poses and personality from them.
RG: And it’s great that the feedback from the guys themselves has been so positive. Are there plans to exhibit it in Louisville? Or indeed elsewhere??
JE: I’m still in the process of editing the photos shooting 20 guys in a number of poses generates
a lot of images which take some time and, as with all the best creatives, I excel at being distracted by other things! But, I’m looking forward to getting a full set and seeing what I can achieve at very least there will be a couple of publications made available in the future. I’d love to exhibit the images and would love to hear from anyone interested in this.
For now, I’m simply providing a teaser in the way of the 13 guys in the 2015 calendar.
RG: And a fine teaser it is too! You mentioned working in a city far from home. Does this mean it’s something you want to repeat elsewhere?
JE: I’m always open to ideas and opportunities. However I’ve also worked in both Sitges and a fishing village in East Lothian and consider all interesting opportunities as they make themselves known. A great example of this is that this time last year I had no interest in Latex and by March I was photo documenting the Manchester Rubberman weekend in a rubber kilt!
RG: Wow! That is quite a turnaround!! And totally different from KY Guys. Clearly you have quite a few diverse projects on the go. It seems to go without saying then that variety and new challenges are something you welcome as an artist.
JE: I think it’s important as a photographer to try new things whether it’s learning empathy with your models by sitting for other photographers yourself or by throwing yourself into strange environments a week following the drag queen, Lady Diamond in Sitges is another thing I never imagined myself doing before I arrived on location!
RG: What do you think you learnt from the Kentucky project and how might it shape your work in future?
JE: I learned I love the city even more and would love to work there in the longer term, that naked men in great light take any of the chore from photography and that trying to source and shoot 20 guys in 10 days is a little tiring. But mostly that Kentucky men are soooooo hot!
RG: I think we can all agree about Kentucky Men! I understand that KY Guys is only one of the projects that’s made 2014 a big year for you?
JE: Yeah 2014 has been phenomenal At the end of 2013 I did a review gallery of all the guys I shot and thought I’d never surpass that but this year has included (in no special order) the Rubberman weekend, photographing Stuart Hatton Mr Gay UK (and now Mr Gay World) as a honey bee, documenting Carnaval for Gay Guide Sitges as well as exhibiting for Brighton, Manchester and Leeds Prides which included a solo exhibition in Leeds of work in progress for my long running ‘Veiled ‘ project.
I’ve ended the year, equally weirdly, making portraits of models from the northern English porn industry - never a dull day in my lens!
RG: Blimey. With a schedule like that, I’m just glad you found time to talk to me. Thanks.
The calendar is still available to order online, or you can see more of his work on his website.