PDN Photo of the Day

Beautiful Boy

Lissa Rivera’s series “Beautiful Boy” takes on the glamorous performance of femininity, creating a stylized, intimate and gender-fluid version that pulls from 20th century photography and film. On view at ClampArt in New York City in a show opening June 1 and running until July 15, Rivera’s series is the result of a collaboration with the person who became her romantic partner. “It began as a confession between friends,” Rivera writes in a statement about the work. “On the subway one evening, my friend shared that he had worn women’s clothing almost exclusively in college, but after graduation struggled to navigate a world that seemed both newly accepting and yet inherently reviling of male displays of femininity. I thought that photography could provide a space to experiment outside of isolation.” With Rivera acting as art director as well as photographer, the two connected through taking pictures, drawing from depictions of women from the past, images that “represented femininity as something ecstatic and glorious—images in beautiful technicolor, autochrome and dye transfer processes,” Rivera told an interviewer. Working in the studio or on location, Rivera says she sought out “locations that feel as if they are sets.” BJ appears in crushed velvet and embellished silk, in settings that range from nests of fabric backdrops to a deep blue swimming pool. “I spend a lot of time conceptualizing the costumes, which I piece together from thrift shops, Ebay, and discount fabric outlets,” Rivera writes. “I think it is important that the images not be seamless, but more like an assemblage where you can see the glue, revealing contemporary identity as a collage of the visual language of the past.”

By reflecting a collaborative, idealized version of femininity, the images in “Beautiful Boy” function as a sort of joint portrait of Rivera and BJ. “It is thrilling to see my partner transform into countless goddess-like forms,” Rivera writes. “The project is a canvas to project our desires. At times the images even become self-portraits. The camera transposes our private experiences into public expression.”

Related Stories:
A Tender Attack on Gender Binaries
Capturing an Elegant Performance of Grief and Strength
Frames Per Second: Photojournalists-Turned-Directors Take a Mindful Approach to Intimate Storytelling

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