Fine art photographer, Matthew Papa recently completed a MFA – Johann caught up with him and found out a little about the experience…
Johann D’Nale:Why did you undertake the MFA in the first place – what were your aims and expectations?
Matthew Papa: In the early 2000s I went back to school for design at Parsons. While in the program, we were encouraged to use our own photographs for our assignments. When I was younger I had been a very keen photographer but as I got older it somehow got pushed to the periphery. So this foray into design rekindled my love of photography. I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do but I was in the middle of a design program and it wasn’t practical at the time to try to make the switch. Since 2003 I have been working as a designer but all the while pursuing this goal of transitioning to photography.
I decided to do the MFA for a number of reasons. I think the major one was being able to concertedly focus on my practice and develop it. Also, I was seeking a community of equally committed people because as an artist your relationships are one of the most important things you can have. The program at ICP-Bard is very intense with a focus on critical theory and experimentation. It was good for me because I didn’t have a formal art history background, although I did study philosophy as an undergraduate. When I started the program, I was really open to being challenged and trying new things.
How has the experience informed or enhanced your practice?
The experience definitely informed and enhanced my practice. For one, we were encouraged to experiment with new forms and challenge the notions we had around ourselves as artists. I worked with video for the first time, as well as appropriation and employing archival images from my younger shooting days. Also, the study of critical theory about contemporary art, in particular ideas around conceptualism, helped me refine what I was interested in and how I wanted my work to function.
How did ‘Song to the Siren’ go? What were the reactions of those who attended?
My solo thesis show went really well. It was great to see my work printed at the scale I imagined, as well as seeing the pieces finished, mounted and framed. There were a lot of people at the opening, including many of my models. That was really gratifying to have them come out to support me. I think people found the work both beautiful and challenging. The nude male is still shocking or alien to many people but I think it is important for these representations to be in the world. Unfortunately the show was only up for three days after which another student takes over the space for his or her thesis. It was a huge amount of work for such a short time.
We Are Obscured looks at gay and queer identities – can you explain a little about how your work touches on this?
My work specifically looks at the middle-aged gay male experience. My generation experienced our sexuality primarily through the specter of AIDS. Many of the men in the generation above me were lost to the disease. In doing the work, I realized that younger men have a completely different experience of their sexuality since AIDS was perceived largely as a manageable disease for them, and now with PReP, preventable. In the work, I’m exploring relationships between men and how we navigate intimacy. Often I am working with strangers so there is a heightened sense of vulnerability and awkwardness that can heighten a connection.
Finally – where now for you? What plans do you have for the future?
Just this week I submitted my thesis book for printing. We are all required to write and design our own books that live in perpetuity at ICP. It feels like a significant accomplishment and required an intense amount of focus. I have a few more weeks of classes but my immediate plan is to try to unwind a bit so I can process this two year experience. I had considered applying for some residencies but ultimately decided to delay that for now. I’ve heard from people that it is important to give yourself some space the first year out and I feel like I can understand the importance of that. Doing the MFA has been incredibly intense and rewarding but I feel like I need some time to digest it.
My immediate goals are to find a studio space outside of my apartment, perhaps sharing with one of my classmates. The community of artists in New York is rich and deep and I plan to cultivate my role in it. I also would like to teach so will start looking for adjunct positions as well as proposing classes at ICP. I will continue to design but plan to turn that practice towards artists books and helping other photographers realize their own book projects. I knew being a working artist wasn’t an easy path. There are no guarantees and most artists struggle. I will seize on the momentum of finishing this significant body of work by trying to get it seen. One particularly exciting thing this summer is a group show with my classmates at the Camera Club of New York curated by Charlotte Cotton.
Often compared to the New York scene of the 1980s, central to the city’s current success is Cha Cha Boudoir – the hugely influential monthly club night. Its reputation is built not only on innovative performance but also a strong, iconic visual style. Glenn Jones aka Wretched Ginger Boy, the artist behind the club’s artwork has become known an important chronicler of the scene and is about to launch his debut solo exhibition.
Richard Glen: I know you are a graphic designer by profession but where did the interest in chronicling the Manchester alt-drag scene begin?
Glenn Jones: I was a freelance illustrator and there was a period of time where I was working on a lot of projects that were top secret and weren’t to be released for several months.
I needed a little project for myself just to go straight into my portfolio and I didn’t have to worry about waiting six months to release it to the public. At the time Rupaul’s Drag Race was massive and I was very into it. I had the idea of drawing all the winners in one piece of artwork – in a ‘Disney Princess’ homage style.
I thought it would be cool to do and quite relevant in pop culture relevant – so if I then posted it on Facebook and Twitter I might get a few likes.
I’m guessing you got more than that?
The day I posted it was the day Bianca Del Rio won the show and she was the last one I did so I posted it up and that was literally the start of my art career. It was mental. It went from 25 followers to 250 followers in five hours.
Had you had an interest in the drag scene before or did it all come from Rupaul’s Drag Race?
It all started with the show. Everyone has preconceptions of what drag is. I did. But that show opened my eyes. There were certain characters I could relate to. I’m an artist, they are artists. Things they’d gone through like bullying, I could relate to that.
So it was as much the human stories that drew you in?
Yes, very much so. And it’s because then you realise it’s an art form and this is how they express their art. I gravitated towards that.
I only intended to do one drag piece but it got such a big response that I was thinking “there’s something in this”
So from that first piece, how did chronicling the Manchester scene come about?
People started talking about my work. When the drag race people were over I would go and see them and give them a canvas, which was cool because they got to know me.
Michelle Visage from the show was hosting an event a couple of years ago and it was a night when she was judging queens on stage.
From the Manchester scene, Cheddar Gorgeous, Anna Phylactic and Grace Oni Smith were performing lip synchs. I thought for a long time the US queens were a lot more advanced than the UK. So the night I saw Manchester’s finest perform was amazing because I realised the talent we have here.
And this was about the time when the drag scene in Manchester exploded and started getting attention and a lot of press – and especially the club night you do the artwork for.
Cha Cha Boudoir is very much the driving force. It’s always been a bit alternative, very dark and theatrical based.
The actual place for me within the gay scene is a home for everybody. When you look at the people that go there, it’s no one type of person. You’ve got twinks, bears, lesbians, trans and they all just mingle and they’re all friends there to watch these amazing dark performances.
And now you are known for chronicling the performers of this scene. Do you feel a responsibility? Especially as it sounds as if many have become friends.
Yes, I would never want to do them a disservice.
I do feel my work is a part of it now. With Cha Cha I’m there to represent the brand and it’s got to be quality. The team who run it put so much work into every show. Each one takes months and I have to match that level of input.
So you constantly have to raise your game?
I’m like that anyway as an artist and I always want to do better than I’ve done.
The drag queens in Manchester scene are my muses and they always think outside the box, which makes me think outside the box.
I did notice that you seem to have a very varied range of styles in your work?
I’m quite a chameleon. I worked for Hallmark Cards for twelve years and you work on every type of card there can be. They push you to go beyond your normal boundaries.
When I see a style I need to break it down to figure out how they did it because it’s a way of proving I’ve got the skills to do it.
So tell me a little bit about you exhibition.
It’s pretty much a retrospective. It’s a mix of Cha Cha posters and individual portraits of some of the queens. And there is work in there than I have always wanted to display together.
I had to really whittle it down to my best and I wanted to make sure I represented different queens and make sure there is a nice mix and feature as many as I could.
I’m hoping this is the first of many.
So are we – thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to Obscured, Glenn.
There’s an inborn fear we have about sharing our issues. A little secret of our own that eats us up from the inside and brings us to a point where we can no longer handle it. We long to tell someone but hold back all too often from doing so. What are we afraid of? Rejection? Looking like a fool? Being judged, perhaps? Or perhaps that sometimes we might lose the identity we have built for ourselves if we deal with it and no longer have it?
With a kind of anonymity social media has made it much easier to say “I’m having a shit time of it right now.” A little mention of a problem on Facebook or Twitter posts or support groups and support comes in from those you love and quite frequently from those you have never even met. We use this forum effectively, almost unafraid – we can’t see the faces of the people who disapprove and mock us. We only see the ones who have chosen to give us a virtual hug – and that helps us.
I deal with my own brain all the time, a deep-rooted self-loathing for my personal appearance has troubled me and shouted me down for well over half my life. I don’t have a huge problem talking about it, I am however very picky about who I have the conversation with.
Secrets and Lies came about because I posted a photo of a man with a bag on his head that read “Beware: I’m Ugly” on it. The comments poured in about how I shouldn’t put myself down etcetera. It wasn’t my photo – or me under the bag – so I was able to brush off those comments. The sentiment, though, was exactly right for my frame of mind at the time.
It was the reaction that inspired me more than the photograph. The fact that people read a sentiment that rang true for me and it caused some kind of thought process that made them upset or angry that I should think this way. I wanted to give others a voice to share their secrets.
The lies really covers two aspects, one is about the lies we tell about ourselves – to protect us from others or cover up our secrets – but also about how easy it is to lie on social media. How easily we believe something written on a status by someone we’ve never met. We have no idea what is truth and what is reality sometimes, we have no choice but to take what we read at face value.
So I put out a call on Facebook with my thoughts and ideas and asked people to volunteer their secrets and lies, one of each to be precise. One hundred brown paper bags were dispatched to fifty different people with the instruction to write a secret on one bag and a lie on the other, on the reverse side they were to write an ‘S’ and an ‘L’ – so I could tell them apart.
I was amazed how quickly I built up a list of people who volunteered to take part in the project, and was even more amazed when the bags started returning. Some of the comments could make a person weep. I asked for people to be honest with their secrets and they were. I am incredibly grateful for that. The lies were also well thought out – some amusing, others shocking. The people who volunteered certainly put some thought in to it.
I guess the point of it is that I want people to think about others in a different way. Not to judge someone who’s having a bad day, dealing with something from their past or with some kind of mental illness. These bags could be from anyone – that guy you stood next to at the train station this morning you thought was a bit of a cock, that woman smoking a fag whilst pushing a pram, that old man weeping into his cup of coffee. It could be any one of us and most of the time we will never know. We’ll never know because we don’t ask. Sometimes we don’t ask because we know there’s something and we don’t want to deal with what the answer might be. Sometimes we just don’t think about the fact that we don’t really know the people pass on the street, and sometimes we don’t really know the truth that some of our best friends keep hidden from us.
First turned-on to the amazing imagery of Krys Fox when a social media buddy started sharing images with Johann D’Nale during the photographer’s last UK tour in 2013. Shortly after this Johann found the amazing Hallowe’en photos Krys created – and continued to enjoy them as the project continued. Having met Krys on a recent trip to NYC Johann thought he would be the ideal interviewee for this time of year…
Johann D’Nale: What got you started with your Hallowe’en extravaganza?
Krys Fox: The ’31 Days’ series officially began in 2012, as a cure for post-exhibition depression. I had just returned from an exhibition in the UK and it had taken so much outta me that I felt sad, and needed a big project to work on. The idea of recreating horror scenes had originated a few years before during the whole Sarah Palin election scare. A good friend of mine, the actor Guillermo Diaz, wanted to shoot a collaboration with me where we wrote all of Palin’s fucked-up slogans on his body and then we hung taxidermy and a shower curtain and did a black and white Psycho shoot of Diaz wearing her glasses holding a butcher knife. That actually started me thinking what a cool idea it would be to shoot ALL of my favorite horror movies with a twist. I was just scared of how difficult and expensive it would be. Finally in 2012, the seed resurfaced and I just jumped into the project head first.
Can you further explain the concept behind it?
I love horror and sci-fi films so much, but the genre is a pretty ‘straight’ world. So, the original concept was to recreate favorite scenes of scary movies; but switching the genders of all the characters. Letting the boys play the archetypes of the virgin, the whore and so on and then letting women take on the roles of psychos, killers and those in power. I try my best to shoot with pretty much no budget and rely greatly on donations of props, locations and stuff like that. Over the years it has changed and now I cast gender-blind, but there is always a queer element to the images.
The main goal was to create at least 31 different movie stills and post one-a-day on all my social media platforms with a little blog/story behind why it was chosen or telling some behind the screams (sic) stories about it’s production. It was like a present to people out there like me. Weirdos who didn’t feel represented by genre they love so much.
I think this is your fifth year – how do you keep up the enthusiasm and where does the inspiration come from?
This is the fourth year, but the films to homage for year five are already chosen and being story-boarded!
I honestly love creating these images so much… it’s fun for me and my models and for the fans out there. Other horror enthusiasts – they feed me their excitement and it keeps me going. These marathons of shooting are really hard and they wipe me out. I have five images left to shoot this year (out of 42 in total), and then I’m taking a month long nap.
The inspiration is the films. I have a sort of master list of all the movies I’d like to shoot, there are hundreds of titles, and then I re-watch them and sort of go through the list figuring out what I CAN shoot, what I’d LIKE to shoot, and what needs more money or more time.. And go from there.
The series keeps growing cause it KILLS me when I want to shoot a certain film, but can’t for one reason or another. I store that idea in my mind and stew on it over the year until I figure it out. Several films didn’t make the first year which were some of my favorites, and it bugged me so much, we did year two (2013) just to include them – like ‘The Thing’, ‘Jaws’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
Next year is already being worked out because of the same problem. Certain movies are so hard to conceptualize, since a moving image and a still image require different pieces of the same puzzle. I’ve got a lot of the big monster movies (‘Godzilla’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Cloverfield’, ‘King Kong’) left to shoot and we are gonna plan a monster week next year just for them!
How has your approach to the different years varied?
Each year has been slightly different for sure. Year one was the killer. It was basically produced in real time. I shot 33 film tributes in 26 days. Little things like losing a model would be huge ordeals. I’d have to recast something – shooting the next day and then shoot, edit and post it within hours. Many days the image for the day went up minutes before midnight.
I tried to keep ahead of schedule and shoot multiple movies in a day, but due to the differences in the films chosen, that too was hard. Going from a 1930’s set film to something from the 80’s requires a brain shift and completely different lighting and camera techniques.
In Year one also, the weather went from hot summery weather to freezing in a day. So things like ‘Jaws’, where I shot in the actual location (the ocean), were forced to wait a year. The biggest issue in year one was Hurricane Sandy. She hit a few days before Hallowe’en – I remember shooting my last three images the day of the hurricane. I’d shot ‘The Shining’, then went to a different location and shot inserts for ‘Halloween’ and a ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ shoot. By the time I finished, trains and buses were shut down and I walked across Brooklyn to get home. It was scary but it was COMPLETE.
Year two (2013) I started shooting in the summer. I even shot a few overseas on my second UK tour (‘Misery’, ‘An American Werewolf in London’); but that year I got sick for a while, then started working two day jobs to compensate for what my UK trip cost. Time became a problem. Again it ended up being a real time scenario where I shot as much as I could on days off and the series was completed with a day or two grace period.
2014 is the year that wasn’t – it only consists of six images. Life happened.
I had a full time day job that demanded my soul. My husband also feel extremely ill and needed my care for most the month and I also had my first solo exhibition in Manhattan (for a different long running series called the Styx Series) at the beginning of October, which also took a lot of attention.
So this year I started shooting earlier and taking my time with the project. I also have added a more complex lighting scheme, we have way more fancy props and locations and actual props from some of the productions which has been amazing.
Can you choose the image you’re most proud of from each year for us – and tell us why?
That would be so hard. Different images stand out for different reasons. Some I’m just amazed that I pulled ’em off! Some are sentimental favorites – I like to cast my models in recurring roles, switching their characters around from year to year. Sort of like my own horror company of actors. In doing that, it becomes cool to see certain subjects grow up, and evolve – at this point, the series feels like a family project.
In year one, I’m proud of my ‘Frankenstein’ image of Joey Arias. It’s become my trademark image – and is by far the most popular; the likeness is uncanny. But I also love my ‘Cujo’ image from that year, cause it’s my husband and my chihuahua, Annie, and the shoot was hilarious. She’s a mean rescue dog but she loved the corn syrup blood so, getting her to look “scary” was next to impossible, and we just laughed the whole shoot.
I’m very proud of the realism of the Jaws shot from year two and that’s my favorite film, so it’s special.
From 2014 I’d say ‘IT’. It features my best friend and frequent collaborator, Wren Britton, who is a genius jewelry designer (Purevile) and it’s a creepy awesome shot.
This year, my favorite keeps changing. It’s kind of whatever I just shot. I get really nervous before all these shoots, so editing the images and seeing that they work makes me so proud. So far, I’m obsessed with the ‘Crimson Peak’ shot, and ‘the Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ shots (which, at the time of the interview, haven’t been posted to the world yet) but there are some real good ones left to shoot so, I think the finale will be my fave this year – as long as the shoot goes well… we’ll see!
Aside from them being a great promotion – do you do anything else with the images – are they on sale, for example?
Year one’s images were made into DVD covers for two exhibitions and sold as limited editions. They had the stories I had posted daily inside the jewel box, and were blood splattered and matted with vintage horror videocassette tape. A shot from each previous year has been chosen and is on display (and for sale) at an exhibition I’m part of in New Jersey at Gallery U. The exhibition is up now and is called Something Wicked This Way Comes. There are plans for a coffee table book and touring exhibition of the total series, but that can only happen when I finally stop making them – and I don’t know if I can!
There’s a weird intrigue between queer artists and the horror genre – what attracts you to it?
I’m not totally sure to be honest – and I’m actually kind of a horror snob. I find a really good scary movie to be so rare, but when I like one I love it. I tend to like psychological horror films and slasher films the best. I like being scared – it’s almost a turn on for me. I do not particularly like being grossed out. Gore doesn’t do it for me. Give me ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Halloween’ or ‘The Shining’ any day over the torture porn films.
I also find that my taste in horror changes as I do. Often I talk about that when I wrote about the movie I post. I shoot a lot of movies that I loved as a kid, then I re-watch it to brush up on the shoot and find it hasn’t aged well or isn’t good to me anymore. Or vice-versa. I used to hate Rosemary’s Baby as a kid, for example – I thought it was so boring. Now I watch it every year and love it more and more and more.
Obscured looks at how gay men change and adapt identity to suit their own needs, and environment – how does this apply to your own work?
I think my work is all about transformation – no matter what the series or concept. It always has been. I’ve been showing my work to the world since 1999 and that’s always been the through line. I paint people, put masks on them, ask them to take on a role. A good friend of mine, that actually first encouraged me to show my secret art to people, once said that I give people the ‘Krys Fox Effect’ – I bring people into my world and mind and try to show them what I see in them when I look at them. The photos are physical manifestations of my emotions and of the way I see the world and its inhabitants around me.
Hallowe’en is nearly upon us – which, I guess, means you’ll be moving on to something else – what can we anticipate from you in the future?
I have a new photo series that has a little seed growing – it’s based on the end result of one of my homages from Year Four. But it’s still germinating. Some pretty huge things have happened the last few weeks that are going to change a lot. I know that sounds vague.. Let’s just say, things are going to finally start moving – I have always wanted to make films, and it looks like that’s happening!!
Anything else you want to say to the Obscured readers?
Thanks for reading this!
And HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!
The following is a selected gallery of Hallowe’en images through the years:
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.
One of the first guys outside my immediate friend’s circle to sign up for Obscured was Fénix Dîaz – someone who I recognised of doing some amazing illustrations. So, when I thought of my first ‘Unveiled’ interviews I chose him. However I forgot we didn’t share a language – so here is my first interview via Google Translate – in English and Spanish. read English translation
Uno de los primeros chicos fuera del círculo de mi amigo inmediata para inscribirse oculta era Fénix Dîaz – alguien que reconocí de hacer algunas ilustraciones sorprendentes. Así que, cuando pensé en mis primeras entrevistas ‘Unveiled’ Yo lo elegí. Sin embargo me olvidé que no compartimos una lengua – Así que aquí está mi primera entrevista a través de Google Translate – en Inglés y Español.
En primer lugar – felicitaciones por su trabajo – un fuerte estilo personal y una gran positivos para los hombres más peludo! ¿Cómo fueron tus comienzos, ¿cuáles fueron tus primeras obras?
Comencé profesionalmente trabajando en el campo de la moda, y diseñando logotipos, decoraciones y llevando la parte artística y creativa de diversos locales de ocio, restauración y tiendas. También fui director de “Tenerife Entiende”, la primera revista canaria destinada al público LGTB, donde me ocupaba también de hacer algunas ilustraciones. Con el tiempo me fui especializando en representar el mundo Bear.
Máscaras cuentan mucho en su trabajo – ¿ha considerado esto?
La verdad es que usó las máscaras para representar algo oculto que quiero transmitir con mis dibujos , ya sea un sentimiento o una doble intención escondida tras lo que se ve a simple vista.
También suelen dibujar superhéroes; a menudo en una forma más madura, más masculino lo que atrae a este tema.
Me crié leyendo cómics de Superhéroes en los que los personajes siempre son jóvenes y por los que parece no pasar el tiempo. Lo que hago cuando dibujo a estamos personajes es hacerles un homenaje a la vez que doy una versión más adulta que se adapta más a mis gustos.
Sus imágenes varían de hombres muy fuertes que se ven bastante dominante para hombres muy cariñosos – y en cada uno el sentimiento es fuerte; Es esto algo que usted trabaja duro en?
Mi interés es representar gráficamente a la comunidad Osuna actual, la subcultura gay amante de las barbas y la actitud masculina. Pero esta masculinidad no tiene nada que ver con no mostrar el lado sensible, dulce, e incluso, coqueto. Por ello los protagonistas de mis ilustraciones son hombres con barba y vello corporal, que buscan la complicidad con el espectador moviéndose entre la dureza y la ternura, mostrando que el camino entre ambas, a veces, es muy corto y sutil.
¿Trabaja usted en la memoria – o usted basa sus imágenes en las fotos que se encuentran u otras obras de arte?
La verdad es que siempre estoy sacando ideas nuevas de donde voy y lo que veo para mis ilustraciones, tanto de forma gráfica (fotografías o bocetos rápidos) como haciendo uso de mi memoria.
¿Cuáles son sus pensamientos sobre cómo los hombres homosexuales ocultan o no cambios en sí mismos para “encajar” – ya sea en el mundo o en la vida gay? Por qué no hay más espacio para la individualidad?
Aunque respeto la decisión de cada uno a manifestarse libremente como hay o no, creo que vivir oculto o en un armario nunca es bueno para poder realizarte como persona.
¿Cree usted que los colectivos como Obscured son importantes o útiles para los creativos?
¡Por supuesto que sí! Colectivos, como Obscured, hacen que se conozcan nuevos artistas y que sus trabajos se den a conocer.
A muy grandes gracias a Fénix Díaz para compartir sus pensamientos y obras. Más en su blog…
Firstly – my congratulations on your artistic work – you have a strong personal style and a great positive for furry men! How did you get started, what were your early works?
I started working professionally in the field of fashion and designing logos, decorations and bringing artistic and a creative dimension to various entertainment venues, restaurants and shops. I was also director of “Tenerife Entiende” (“Tenerife understands”) – the first Canarian magazine for the LGBT audience – where I also produced a few illustrations. Eventually I left to specialize in representing bears.
Masks appear a lot in your work – have you considered why this is?
The truth is that the masks are used to represent something hidden that I want to convey within my drawings, be it a feeling or a double meaning hidden behind what initially meets the eye. Masks also tend to suggest superheroes; often in a more mature, masculine way. I grew up reading Superhero comics in which the characters are so young and for whom time seems to stand still. What I do when drawing my characters is to create a tribute to them while showing an older version that is more suited to my own tastes.
Your images range from very strong men who are dominant to very loving men – and in each the emotion strong – is this something you work hard at?
My interest is to show the current bear community, the gay subculture which loves beards and other emblems of maleness. But this masculinity doesn’t mean I can’t also show the sensitive and sweet sides – even flirtatiousness. Thus the protagonists of my illustrations are men with beards and body hair, seeking complicity with the audience moving between toughness and tenderness, showing that the path between the two, sometimes, is very short and subtle.
Do you work from memory – or you base your pictures on the photos that are found or other works of art?
The truth is I’m always getting new ideas of where I go and what I see for my artwork, both graphically (quick sketches or photographs) and using my memory.
What are your thoughts on how gay men hide or change themselves to “fit” – either in the world or the gay life? Why is not there more room for individuality?
While I respect everyone’s decision as to demonstrate freely or not, I think being hidden – either in a closet or in life – is never good. It is important to realize yourself as a person.
Do you think that collectives like ‘Obscured’ are important or useful for creatives?
Of course they are! Through groups such as Obscured, new artists can make their work and themselves known (more widely).
A very big thanks to Fénix Díaz for sharing his thoughts and works. More on his blog…
The first of our artist interviews on Obscured, this focuses on Gregory Moon who works primarily in photographic images – a large number of which use himself as the model. Currently working in Seattle (USA) he has almost a decade of image-making behind him – much of it in themes which resonate with the themes of ‘Obscured’.
Jon: Thanks for agreeing to be be interviewed for Obscured. I’m hoping that, in addition to the collaborative Facebook group that these blog posts will help others taking part to get more insight into the project’s themes from the input of the other artists who are taking part.
Having looked through your site – and the links – I can see that masks aren’t a new subject for you. What drew you to capturing masked people?
Gregory: I use masks for many reasons in my photos but mainly I use them to erase the subject’s identity. I like to give the sense of a story to my images and obscuring the face of the model makes the photo less of a portrait and more about the situation.
Jon: Interesting concept – that, by hiding more recognisable features – even of someone the audience doesn’t know, they’re better able to apply a narrative.
As an artist are you conscious when making the work as to how much the viewers will see your ‘story’ and how much they apply their own?
Gregory: I try not to think about what the viewer will see too much .
When shooting I always have a very vague story in mind, or at least an idea of what I would think if I were viewing the images and hadn’t shot them myself , but I love it when people bring what they see in the photos to the table.
I deliberately keep the images vague and simple so they won’t necessarily be locked into a specific time period and as a result the viewers are more open to bring what they see to the story and start creating their own.
Jon: The majority of your images are often auto (self) portraits – to what extent are they also auto-biographical (as opposed to simply referencing themes of interest)?
Gregory: I would say less than half of them are auto-biographical.
In most of the photos I use myself in, I am striving to make myself as generic as possible. A basic human figure or “everyman that I feel gives the images a more relatable and timeless feel.
The other 30 to 40% are shot spontaneously because I am inspired by some great lighting or a particular location and need to shoot it right away . These tend to be the more auto-biographical images, because I am shooting so quickly my facial expressions and body positions are dictated by however I am feeling that day.
It can be a bit alarming on a personal level when I view these photos . I always try to inject some of my humour but they usually swing from moody and depressed to highly sexualized images.
Jon: Practically and creatively – what differences do you find between using yourself as the subject and featuring someone else? And are your subjects models or coerced friends and contacts?
Gregory: This is something that comes up often as they both have their good points and drawbacks.
From a practical standpoint, shooting other people is much easier. Taking my own photo can be very challenging. It involves a lot of trial and error and guess work simply because I can’t see what the camera is seeing while it is shooting. Having a model in front of me simplifies a lot of things. I can make adjustments instantly, move two
feet to the left, crouch down, change the lighting, without having to take several shots to realize that these things are needed.
Creatively though, I still find it simpler to just shoot myself. I know exactly what I want to do and just do it, without having to communicate it to anyone else .
Also, there are things I am willing to do in my photos that I am still not comfortable asking someone else to do! I’ve never used an actual model, most of the people I have photographed are friends or acquaintances who have offered to pose for me. A couple of them have been very brave with what they are willing to do , but I still can’t imagine asking any of them to do something like paint themselves white and pose nude in the woods at 8.00am when it’s 38 degrees (Farenheit – close to 0°c) out there. For now, I still do those things myself.
Those in my photos are all friends and contacts that genuinely like my work and want to be a part of it. Most have approached me and offered to pose , some of them have since been shot by other people . I have only had to coerce a couple of them.
Jon: Sounds great – I always think I get a different response and rapport when I know the subject. The first theme for the Obscured collective is ‘Behind the Mask’; what are your thoughts on this and the first editorial.
Gregory: I love this theme and the editorial. Gay men – and their identities and personas – have always been very interesting to me. My own included.
Jon: Ok (And thanks!) So, finally – what’s new with you – what’s upcoming and what should we expect from you in the coming months?
Gregory: Well , I am currently making plans to move from Seattle back home to Michigan . So for the next 2 months I will be taking every opportunity to take photos of everyone and every place here that I can . In the coming months you will be seeing many portraits of other people !
Gallery (contains adult-themed images and nudity).