Nothing like a bit of light reading on a Monday morning. Today we are talking to the super talented visionary, photographer and close friend that is Darren Black. This London based photographer knows a thing or two about pushing boundaries in his work but today amongst his creative process we talk about the obstacles faced by individuals from the transgender community, his new project 'konstructionhaus' and the future.
How is Darren feeling today?
I’m knackered today - I’ve had a long run of work & today has been my first day off in ages so I decided to take myself off to the Barbican and go to the Vulgar exhibition.
What are the issues you think individuals from the transgender community face these days?
I think that transgendered people face prejudice every day the way they have always done & sadly increased visibility hasn’t yet led to less attacks being levied upon them. However, the good thing is: we are having the conversation about what it means to be transgender & globally there is now a network of people who are in a position to help. We are in the age of progress so having public figures who are either transgendered or supportive of people in the trans community enables the process of education to get better which will hopefully mean that the transgender experience for each subsequent generation will get easier. We are a long way from equality yet, but have started the journey...
Your work always blurs the lines between gender and identity, how did that come about?
I think that I have always been interested in counter cultures and queer art & these places have always been the first to push boundaries when it comes to gender/identity/sexuality etc. Traditionally, it is women who are forced to modify their bodies in the name of fashion, from stilettos & corsets, to makeup & breast augmentation. In a patriarchal society, to be a woman is to be “less than” so to dress as a woman can be seen as comedy - this is where I like to subvert the context of my menswear photography by using traditionally female components to accessorise the men I shoot to make the viewer question what they think is acceptable as “menswear”. Doing the same to female models does’t carry the same subtext because women have often dressed in a masculine way without anybody questioning this. In terms of subcultural references: if you look at the punk uniform, for instance, it has sex deeply embedded into it with the use of underwear as outerwear, shredded tights that look like the wearer has been attacked, torn clothes held together with safety pins - when punks got dressed, this DIY aesthetic was the first time in the history of fashion that this was happening. Similarly, the voguing scene in New York in the late 80’s/early 90’s - here was a community of people (black and Latino gay men) who were seen as “second-class” in their every day lives but who could live out their fantasies on the dance floor: a place where they could feel “more than” These kind of moments are what inform my photos which are generally underpinned by four pillars: SEX, SUBVERSION, VULGAR & COOL so when you look through my archive, you’ll see these themes recurring throughout my work.
Is there anyone that inspires you currently?
Every day I’m inspired by someone or something new...from people I see on the tube, to a documentary I’ve watched on the TV. In general, I visit lots of galleries, go to exhibitions, the ballet, I check-in on DAZED DIGITAL, I-D ONLINE, SHOW STUDIO and VICELAND, I watch films & I read - A LOT.
We seem to have made a lot of progress as a race with regards to recognising individuals with their own unique identity be it gender or sexual but at the same time there’s no denying the regression of these ideas in some parts of the world. How does that make you feel?
I feel incredibly sad when I see oppression or bullying of any kind. As far as I’m concerned, I really do believe that anybody should be allowed to celebrate themselves and present themselves exactly as they want. It’s not anybody else’s place to stop them so when I see this, I get really pissed-off on their behalf. When you take away someone’s choices, you are dictating to them & that doesn’t sit well with me...
Are there any exciting projects that you are working on that we should look forward to?
Yep...And that’s all I can tell you! Haha!
How did you get into photography? Have you had any formal training in it?
I was basically “mid-career” in my late 30’s in a completely different job & I knew that I wasn’t fulfilled. I had always had a love of photography, collecting books and going to all the exhibitions I could fit in and was looking for a bit of a change so I decided one day to buy a camera and teach myself how to shoot & I’ve literally not looked back since!
Tell us a bit more about your new project ‘konstructionhaus’?
This was a personal project of mine born out of my love for brutalist architecture. I wanted to document the brutalist movement before gentrification of various neighbourhoods in London led to these beautiful buildings being knocked-down. My ambition has already got the better of me so I’m now in the process of coordinating a photographic walkabout in other cities to see if this project “has legs”...
If you were to pick a decade that resonates the most with you which one would it be?
Definitely the 90’s! I think this was genuinely the last time anything was actually “new”...we are living in the age of the remix now where culture is just plundering the archives of what has gone before and remixing it for a new generation but in the 90’s we were at the very end of the age of invention. Considering the reach of the internet and how many options we have culturally, there has been a lot of homogenisation in terms of how people dress in recent years.
What’s next for Mr Black?
Who knows? Whatever it is will be just as much of a surprise to me as it will be to you!
Model: Diego Villarreal, Styled by: A+C Studio