Since I was young I was already drawing, watching, registering details from the things I saw. It was an urge and I had the feeling I was chosen by a visual language, which I pursued. I went to art school when I was 14 and it made me discover…..
Text JF. Pierets Photos Lukas Beyeler & Patrick Mettraux
We’ve met Lukas Beyeler on Facebook and were instantly touched by both his pictures as his intriguing video work. Lukas is working, amongst others, for Bernard Willhelm and Bruce Labruce and is photographing both famous faces like Pharrell and Amanda Lepore and gorgeous creatures out of the mainstream. We asked him some questions and decided quite instantly he’s one of our most favorite artists.
How old where you when you realized you wanted to be an artist?
Pretty young I guess! As far as I remember, the only thing that interested me was to go to art school. It was the logical path to take at that time because I couldn’t see myself doing anything else!
What was the very first work you’ve made and how did you come up with the idea?
I was 8 or 9 years old and spent three days applying all kind of plastic, cardboard, paper and paint on a small piece of paper. Then Ioffered it to my dad. I still have a very clear vision of this ‘piece’ in my head nowadays. About 10 years later, he showed it to me, I was quite surprised that he kept it for so long somewhere in his office.
Do you consider yourself more a photographer or a video artist?
I guess I’m both. I don’t want to limit myself to one media. Depending on what my intensions are or what is needed, I would choose either one. Photography usually requires less preparation and the postproduction is way shorter as well. But I am not completely satisfied with the still-image; I have the impression that motion picture catches peoples attention in a different way and is a lot more compelling to the spectator.
How do you feel about the recent interest in drag?
It might not be only the ‘Drag’ thing that people find interesting or attractive. Probably what people see at first is a strong character stepping out of the mainstream. The fact of changing identity through cross-dressing is somehow a fantasy and has something surreal. In order to have the courage to do so, one has to be brave and have a strong personality. Drag queens tend to be great entertainers with a certain tragedy, sadness and drama that embodies weakness and vulnerability. These characteristics make it very easy to compare yourself to them. Back in time, role models were strong, untouchable and beyond criticism. Nowadays the ‘New Heroes’ are weak and accessible, self-mockery became something appealing.
What do you hope to achieve by taking a picture of a man in a skirt?
Dunno if I really want to achieve anything, first of all I do the pictures for me and my models. We have to be both happy with the image. Most of the time when you do art, you just do it for yourself; it’s a very egotistical process. Taking a picture of a man in a skirt can be very boring, but taking a picture of a man who enjoys being in that skirt is very exiting. The magic has a lot to do with the model. Do you remember this picture of Iggy Pop in skirt saying: ‘I’m not ashamed to dress ‘like a woman’ because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman’, Iggy played perfectly with this ambiguity during his entire career.
Do you have a role model?
Sure, Cicciolina Ilona Staller. She was and still is very inspiring to me.
In the early 70’s, drag queens and transvestites where forbidden in public (Mapplethorpe didn’t publish his Book of Portraits until 1983). Would you be able to work in a different era?
Not showing my work to the public is something I could totally live with. I think I am very shy and not so enthusiastic when the time comes to make any work ‘public’ in a gallery and to be confronted by the critics. Nowadays you can access everything from everywhere, so it was probably more interesting when it was forbidden. It was something reserved for friends, family, and people from the scene itself.
‘Changing identity through cross-dressing is somehow a fantasy and has something surreal. In order to have the courage to do so, one has to be brave and have a strong personality.’
Do you feel privileged to be a spectator in the lives of all those people?
I would much rather say that the respect and the appreciation works both ways. Everything is based on a personal level and both parties contribute towards a final product. When you get along, you are part of their universe and they are a part of mine – it’s a family circle.
Some of your models are well known personalities but most of them are anonymous. Are you searching for a balanced mix or are you working per assignment?
I choose the people that I feel most likely comfortable to work with. No matter if they are celebrities or unknown. I see absolutely no difference working with known/unknown personalities. The anonymous people are tomorrows’ stars and well known people were unknown yesterday. The difference is that well known people don’t knock at your door everyday, especially for the few people you really want to work with. Most of the time you have more artistic freedom when working with anonymous people and more time to work with them. Shootings are longer and you have no restrictions about the final result. Where working with famous people a lot more restrictions apply.
Photographer Gilles Larrain was once asked by one of his clients why he’d taken these horrible photos of such ill, deviant people. What would you answer to such a question?
Haaa haaa… well as Frank Zappa would say: ‘Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible’. As you know, a lot of people still think like Larrain’s client, because his work is a mirror of the beholder. Anyone who’s comfortable in his life won’t ask this kind of question, I guess it’s the frustration that talks once again.
Amongst many others you worked with Bernhard Willhelm, Walter Pfeiffer and Bruce LaBruce. Who else is on your wishlist and why?
I have no specific wishlist; those artists you mentioned got in touch with me because they probably have seen similarities in our work. Collaborations are always fun as long as you have an artistic freedom in your own contribution and that was the case with all of them.
What future project have you got lined up?
I was just awarded by the Musée Cantonal d’Art de Lausanne. So I’ll be doing an exhibition in this museum in 2014, that’s quite a challenging work to do and I am very excited about it.
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