Magnus Arrevad has spent the last five years traveling around the world exploring male burlesque dancers. He has documented the back stage life of these performers traveling to Paris, County Sligo in Ireland and even to a trailer park in Tacoma. The series titled Boy Story captures the male dancers and singers who come alive at night with their second persona and take part in this underground performance world. The series is the travelogue of these nocturnal journeys with Go-go Harder, EvilHateMonkey, The Luminous Pariah and more. Magnus Arrevad will launch an exhibition and book inspired by Boy Story on November 10 2015, in London.
Magnus Arrevad was born in Copenhagen but now divides his time between London and Berlin. Arrevad approaches his images in a classical way. His style is inspired from the kind of composition, lighting and shadows you’d find in a Rembrandt or Sargent painting or Ruben’s relationship between characters and backgrounds or photographs by Yousuf Karsh, rather than in the loudness of a Baz Luhrmann film or a David LaChapelle shoot which is surprising given the subjects he often chooses to shoot. His aim is to make his work appear eternal rather than clever or gimmicky. “The nature of my process is so spontaneous, and theirs so methodical, that the most I can claim is that they trained my eye.” he says about the impact of these artists on his work.
Arrevad work captures the viewer because of its intensely intimate nature. One becomes immersed in the world he has presented you with. He captures not just the physicality of his subjects, but the life and energy projected from them. This ability to capture such truthful moments are a testament to his dedication of truly understanding the world he is entering, rather than just taking a few snaps and moving on. He has a skill for showing the frail, human essence of his subjects.
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.
This series first started by accident, in a dungeon in Copenhagen to be precise. “I was photographing the Gay Pride Festival in an unrelated capacity, and received a glimpse into a world I could never have imagined.” He said. Arrevad was drawn into this underground world of go-go dancers, male porn stars, boylesque and circeulesque. The processes and preparations the performers went through each evening noticeably liberated them from the social roles they played during the day and this fascinated him.
The dancers had invented a world and it wasn’t just about sexuality, though of course this was a large part. It was about being themselves, Arrevad wanted to show that when they applied their makeup each night it was actually them taking off the mask they present to the world, not putting one on.
He ditched digital for an analogue black and white medium format, which meant he could shoot only a limited number of shots per night. This forced a sense of occasion into every image
“A million times I’ve heard people saying, ‘just be yourself,'” Arrevad said. “To which the only sensible answer is, ‘which one?’ We act different selves to our parents, our friends, our lovers and to our selves. 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, and what the subjects of Boy Story have allowed me to do is to watch them constructing their inner selves.”
Most of his images take place behind the stage forcing the viewer into the position of observer. He started Boy Story from this angle also but eventually transitioned to the point of a participant, going so far as to insert himself into a few of his images.
“The only two modes of documentation possible are voyeurism and participation,” Arrevad concluded. “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 a nonsense. Even the unseen eye has a gaze, has a charge.”
For the photographer, the burlesque represented something more than just a performance under the protection of an alter ego. To him, these men had found a way to channel their true self through art.
Magnus Arrevad will launch an exhibition and book associated with Boy Story on November 10 2015, in London. So keep and eye out!