Among all the intensity of the past years, how did ‘Photo Ephemera’ start? How would you describe this project to someone that hasn’t seen it?
After the success of ‘Death Book’ Matthew from Baron Books asked to come up with an idea to follow that up, maybe something less intense than that project. I proposed to him to make a book with my digital archive using photos I have taken for decades, some of them never published. It is like a personal diary of what I was doing between the late 90s to 2011-2012’ ish.
I always explained that back in the days when phones were only for calls I carried my camera in one pocket, and the mobile in the other one. These archives are from my Olympus 35mm point-and-shoot film camera. It is mostly casual photography, stuff that was taken spontaneously in a club, or in a hotel with a rented hustler, in or with friends from a particular event, or backstage at a concert. ‘Photo Ephemera’ also has portraits of friends like Genesis P-Orridge or people I’ve met like Karl Lagerfeld, snapshots of ex-lovers, or even of my dad. A curation of my gay messy archives that have been sitting in external drives for years.
In the era of smartphones, I think there is a new definition of photography. These days you can take a photo from a phone or an iPad but it is not like with a proper camera. It’s a screen – you don’t look through a viewfinder. All the photos published in the two volumes of ‘Photo Ephemera’ respond to a previous time in photography, it’s more like a classical way of taking photos, where you are more conscious of composition, the aesthetics, and not just randomly capturing moments.
The narratives of your work since the 80s in films, books, fanzines, and photography have treated topics related to subcultures, or things that could be perceived from a conservative perspective as ‘provocative’. Having seen a lot, what still surprises you?
I would say the direction that social media has gone in is more disturbing than anything else you can think of. I think they have turned somehow into a quasi-fascist tool in the way they police people and imagery. They shadowban artists and content, they regulate what people can see through different algorithms. The ultimate effect of all this is that we start censoring ourselves, otherwise we cannot access these platforms, which creates an effect on the entire culture as everyone is constantly second-guessing their posting decisions in order to not be removed.
Back in the 80s, we were doing what social media is doing now. My friends and I in the queer punk scene used to take photos of our friends and ourselves doing crazy things, getting our nipples pierced, going to punk clubs, having sex, whatever. Like social media these days, we were also creating personas or avatars of ourselves, like Bruce LaBruce, but then we would publish everything in our fanzines, a DIY publishing platform independent of any corporate entity, more in the underground. Today these platforms are able to control your participation in them, and that is problematic.