SILVER GELATIN PRINTS
Hand-printed in London on archival fiber paper.
Available in two sizes
- Small: 24″ x 19.5″ (61 cm x 50 cm) edition of 12 – £950 (incl UK VAT)
- Large: 38″ x 31″ (97 cm x 79 cm) in edition of 7 – £1500 (incl UK VAT)
Signed and numbered on reverse.
“They’ve imagined themselves into existence, and they have complete fidelity to their imaginations”
by Michael Diemar
The image was electric. Two masked men in a dingy basement in Copenhagen. One just a reflection in a mirror. The other seemingly closing in on the photographer. This was pure poetry but of a dark, dangerous and intensely erotic kind, reminding me of Jean Genet’s “Querelle de Brest”, of Kenneth Anger’s “Fireworks”.
It was this particular image that in 2009 alerted me to the Danish-born photographer Magnus Arrevad. He told me he was embarking on a project called Boy Story. It would take him five years to complete and as it progressed I realised I was witnessing something truly extraordinary, a deeply personal document of the international, subterranean world of male performers, burlesque, go-go dancers, cabaret singers and porn stars. The project would take him to New York, Berlin, Paris, London, Copenhagen as well as County Sligo in Ireland and a trailer park in Tacoma. After each stage of the journey he would turn up in London and show me his contact sheets. This was “old school photography”, black and white film, no flash, shot in available light, often under impossible conditions, dark room and fiber prints. The amazing images just kept on coming. Two masked men were followed by Go-go Harder, EvilHateMonkey, The Luminous Pariah, BigChief Random Chaos, Dusty Limits, Blanche DuBois and many others.
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 makeup 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 a 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 perform- ers are playing up because they could see a camera in the room. But I certainly never choreographed any of it”.
“I wanted to make a series of images that shared the composition aesthetics of the Old Masters, but took the subterranean world I know and love as its subject.”
IN THE NEWS
“As they applied each layer of makeup, I saw their true self being revealed, not obscured.”
THE BOY BEHIND THE STORY
Magnus Arrevad is a classical photographer – the current endpoint of that line of portraiture which runs from the paintings of Rembrandt and Sargent to the photographs of Yousuf Karsh.
Arrevad’s great success is to make work that appears eternal rather than clever or gimmicky: his work is affecting because it is not affected. One becomes, in succession, first awestruck, then immersed in his world. He captures not just the physicality of his subjects, but the highly personal energy that burns inside them. It’s a combination of his dedication – truly studying his world, rather than taking a few snaps – and his unrivalled ability to show the frail, human essence of his subjects. His style does not draw attention to itself – this is as it should be. Yet it is instantly recognizable. He has exhibited isolated works at exhibitions in New York, London, Brussels and Maastricht, but his serious work over the last half-decade has been Boy Story (2009 – 2014), his first major photographic series, a comprehensive worldwide study of the world of male performance.
Born in Copenhagen, he now divides his time between London and Berlin. He is currently at work on a second long photographic series and his first major theatrical work.