Satisfyingly provocative and tastefully kitschy are two of many ways that you can describe this collection of photography. Utilising elaborate set designs and vibrant lighting, Romain Berger tells the story of more disturbing social subjects.
The photographer likes to play with the stereotypical tropes of the gay community: “The married man who sleeps with boys, the businessman drinking his whiskey in front of a naked man, denouncing patriarchy,” he explains.
“For me, it’s also a way of trivialising homosexuality. I sexualise men as I do too often with women. In my work, it is the man who becomes the object.”
What he’s interested to find out is what he describes as “the hidden side of our world,” – r*pe, police violence and sexual assault in the church.
The aesthetic beauty paired with troubling themes is what makes defining Romain Berger’s photography difficult – and, in a way, it makes it even more appealing.
The 34-year-old lives in Rennes, a large city in the west of France. After studying cinema and receiving his diploma, he moved to Paris to pursue a career in filmmaking. He faced difficulty in finding a job in the industry, but still bought a camera and inadvertently discovered a passion for photography. He quickly realised that he could transfer the captivating stories he wanted to tell in movies, onto a single image frame.
Nine years have passed since then, and Berger has finally come into his own, saying, “I had a boyfriend who didn’t like me to take photographs that were too colourful or too sexualised, so I only took very classical portraits. It was only in 2017, after my break-up, that I was able to free myself artistically and finally realise all these images I had in mind by creating crazy and kitschy stories.
“That’s really what attracts me to photography. Telling stories, living in the moment like a screenshot of a film and working like in the cinema with fixed lights, decorations and talking about social issues.”
Citing the directors Gregg Araki and Xavier Dolan, Berger shared his creative influences for his art. “Since I was a teenager, I was a big fan of photographer David Lachapelle’s images, without ever knowing that he would be one of my great inspirations for the rest of my career.
“I also love James Bidgood who was a pioneer of homoeroticism and who unfortunately never managed to make a living from his work. It’s also a tribute to him that I’m working hard to make it happen and change people’s minds.”
After winning a competition last May, Romain’s photos were shown at the famous Schwules Museum in Berlin. Being the world’s first museum dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, it showcases the finest of queer culture.
With regard to new projects, Romain is looking forward to what he has planned. Having recently worked with Drag Race France’s La Briochée, he’s booked another shoot with Elips and Soa, two other queens from the show.
Awing at the idea of who he might collaborate with next, he said: “I would love to work with queer singers I really like such as Kiddy Smile, Eddy de Pretto, Hoshi and Bilal Hassani. My ultimate dream is to get in touch with Olly Alexander and work with him, but my secret dream is to do a shoot for Jean Paul Gaultier.”
In the last few months, Berger has had his creations published in Life’s A Cabaret with English publisher Men One Paper Art. A second book from a Berlin publisher entitled My Gay Eyes has also been released, with Berger featured alongside famed French art duo Pierre et Gilles. His art is available for sale on his website, where he sells limited editions of his collections. Like other queer creatives, Romain is very active on social media, sharing more about his personal life and talking about his work.
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