by Deven Green
You and I first met judging a drag competition. I adore your sharp tongue, British accent, and keen eye. Your active portraits in a simple white box have been a visual anthem that celebrates the expanding queer identity and visibility.
How did your upbringing in London shape your fascination and love with the images you capture today?
I have always been fascinated by faces. I grew up watching my dad developing pictures in his darkroom, and it seemed magical. His photography also focused on people. Portraits are a way to grab a moment and make people look great, tell a story, etc. I have always said that a photo, say, of the Grand Canyon is going to be a let-down compared to actually seeing it, whereas a portrait can be the exact opposite.
I grew up wanting to be an actor, and I ended up at drama school so that influences my work. There is a lot of storytelling and drama in it, which can also be confrontational and angry – basically, it’s an extension of my madness. I guess that is influenced by everything you grow up with.
Why the white box? What did that represent to you?
My PR answer used to be: it represents equality. Everyone starts with the same blank box, and what they do with it tells their story, but, clearly, we don’t all start from the same place, so I better scrap that nonsense.
I came up with the box idea when I was actively trying to come up with a new project. My thought process was this: I want to do a project where I shoot a diverse selection of queer people – as I had just finished promoting my last book “Why Drag?” I had been so immersed in drag for four years I wanted to open up my work, especially to trans folks, but also look at the whole rainbow spectrum. I also thought, “whats the best social media shape? “A square. What if I build a square white box and people can have free reign to showcase themselves – tell their own story. A mini-theater. The box was white because it needed to be a blank canvas. I knew the white walls would bounce light in a very flattering way.
Basically, it was an aesthetic idea I found exciting. Just the shape you make divides up the space and creates drama. Or the box can be utterly transformed.
If you were asked, “WHY DRAG?”, which is the name of your first coffee-table book, how would you answer?
Because drag is my family and my world and where I belong. I may choose not to get into drag myself (I did constantly as a child), but my drag comes through my photography. I am not an observer but a participant.
You deal with the energy of so many creative artists/performers all the time. How do you spend your time alone?
I spend a lot of my time alone. One could say I isolate. I have been so emerged in my work for so long to the detriment of relationships. I am trying to get some balance now and forge some proper friendships here. Everything has been so much about work I have had tunnel vision, always planning my next shoot so not really letting myself stop and just be. I am a riot on a shoot, I guess because I am “on,” but I feel very socially awkward in real life.
All of your images have so much movement in them, a real sense of space. Do you create the narrative before-hand or in the moment?
Nearly always in the moment. I will plan the general idea, but that is a starting point, and it can go anywhere from there. I am glad you see that. I always describe it as: My shot is the moment after the moment you expect. So the first click comes. Then that quick second click, when the subject has exhaled, is where my sweet spot is.
Do you think your book made you reconsider how you label yourself?
It actually didn’t. I personally am a gay man. It took me a while to get there. But, after much confusion growing up, when I found my gay grail, it felt completely correct, and that hasn’t changed. It has, however, been an absolute joy and honor to hear other people’s stories, many of which are featured in my book, as is mine. I consciously asked a diverse group to answer questions about their lives to give a real insight into all the different identities, both sexual and gender, and I am extremely proud of that aspect of the book.
There are over 300 images for your book “Rainbow Revolution.”
How do we get a copy?
I look forward to everything you do, Magnus.