Mesmerizing Portraits of Baltimore’s Voguers

Behold
The Photo Blog
April 15 2014 11:04 AM

Portraits of Baltimore’s Voguers 

Firefly Lo Bell Gabrielle (Female Figure)
Gabrielle L'Bell Revlon

Frédéric Nauczyciel

Since its birth in the New York ballroom scene of the 1960s, voguing has made a few notable entrées into mainstream culture, such as Madonna’s song “Vogue” and the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. But French artist Frédéric Nauczyciel’s portraits of modern voguers highlight the ballroom scene’s continued relevance as an underground culture, one that serves as a platform for self-expression for queer people of color in urban communities across the globe.

Nauczyciel was in Baltimore on a grant from the French government in 2011 when he stumbled across some voguers performing in a parking lot. He posted photos of the event to Facebook and quickly found himself flooded with new connections in the ballroom scene. “Before that, I had maybe 50 friends on Facebook. Suddenly I ended up having 200 friends—voguers from Baltimore and New York,” he said.

Nauczyciel stayed five months in the city, intrigued by the themes of race, gender, and performance that are embedded in ballroom culture. “They invent themselves. They decide who they want to be. They can twist very easily from masculine to feminine, from nice to mean,” he said. “I think it's very brave, very courageous.”

Fireflies, Baltimore Mike Revlon (Banjee Realness)
Michael Peele Revlon

Frédéric Nauczyciel

Firefly Kory Goose Revlon (After Degas' Dancer)
Kory Goose Revlon

Frédéric Nauczyciel

Fireflies, Baltimore Justin Winston (with Father)
Justin Winston

Frédéric Nauczyciel

Advertisement

To get to know his subjects, Nauczyciel took some test portraits of them in a studio at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center. From there, he made portraits with them in urban environments, a collaborative effort he said was a combination of “my vision and their reality.” For the portraits, his subjects assumed their ballroom personas and, per Nauczyciel’s request, posed in their own neighborhoods and backyards. “Their first reaction was, ‘Why don't you pick a nice area?’ In their minds, photography is about making things look nice. I told them it was not the type of work I was doing, that I simply wanted to talk about their reality, which is beautiful from my point of view,” he said.

Nauczyciel’s work in Baltimore eventually opened doors to exploring the voguing community in his native France. “Diving into the Baltimore vogue scene gave me the key to how I could fulfill the work in Paris. When I came back from Baltimore and showed the work at a museum in Paris, suddenly the entire Parisian scene showed up and some of them asked me to work with them,” he said.

Fireflies, Baltimore Mother Lisa Revlon (Fem Queen, With Mother)
Mother Lisa Revlon

Frédéric Nauczyciel

Fireflies, Baltimore Leggo La'Beija (High Heels)
Leggo La'Beija

Frédéric Nauczyciel

The title of his work, according to a release, refers to a metaphor used by Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini to describe the destruction of the “unique spirit of the people” by “bourgeois consumerism.” “If you don't have artists in a country, if there's no space to create, no place to invent something new, then there's no space in a country for people to invent themselves,” Nauczyciel said. “If you don't have grey areas where something different or new is possible, then the culture is dying.”

Nauczyciel’s exhibition, “The Fire Flies [Baltimore / Paris],” is on view at Julie Meneret Contemporary Art in New York City through May 18.

Fireflies, Baltimore Ezra Swan (Hands, Tribute to Andy Warhol)
Ezra Swan

Frédéric Nauczyciel

Fireflies, Baltimore Trebra Taylor (Master of Ceremony)
Trebra Taylor

Frédéric Nauczyciel

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 20 2014 3:40 PM Keeping It in the Family Why are so many of the world’s oldest companies in Japan?
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.