Romain Berger, the French queer photographer

Romain Berger is a 33 years old artist living in France and he introduces us to his gently provocative photographic universe.

Openly queer, Romain highlights, without modesty, a community often excluded and pointed out (gays, women, trans, drag queens…), trying to change the mentalities of people around him. His work allows him to talk about social issues, while giving a representation of the LGBTQ+ community against a background of ultra colourful, offbeat, tender and erotic settings. He like to play with the codes of crypto-gay cinema and not leave the viewer indifferent.

His work can be described as cliché and kitsch. He doesn’t hide from it, that’s the goal. He claims to be a camp artist, a concept that designates, among other things, a form of self-mockery that allows gay men to laugh at the difficulties of their condition in a homophobic society, all with artifice and exaggeration. For a long time now, the community has had the strength to take back insults and attribute them to itself. For example, the word QUEER, which was the basis of the verbal violence, has become a common word in the community. It is by taking these clichés and turning them around that he gets my messages across.

YASS met Romain Berger and this is everything we talked about.

Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

My name is Romain Berger, I am 34 years old and I openly define myself as a queer artist. I assume my sexuality without complex. I like going out, partying, sincere people and extravagance. My mind works very fast and all the time. I spend my time dreaming about the world and imagining lots of stories. I studied cinema, so the cinematic universe is very present in my life. I’m a bit of a utopian I must admit.

How would you describe your work?

My work is colourful, rhythmic, kitsch, cinematic and gently provocative. I like to stage the LGBTQIA+ community by taking all the clichés that I divert in sophisticated atmospheres. I try to give visibility to marginalized people. I like to say that I am a “camp” artist, a concept that designates, among other things, a form of self-mockery that allows gay men to laugh at the difficulties of their condition in a homophobic society, all with artifice and exaggeration. This work also allows me to talk about social issues (rape among homosexuals, paedophilia in religion, loneliness…) but also to show the queer universe as it exists for part of the community (backrooms, the party atmosphere, sexuality etc…).

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on an exhibition that will take place in June for Pride month. I’m going to make a giant set and put on a Drag Queen show for the opening. It’s a lot of work but it’s very exciting. I also have a book in the works which will be published by the English publisher “Men One paper art” exclusively dedicated to my photographic work. Another exhibition is starting in a few days in a Swiss gallery (in Geneva) and I have many new photo ideas in preparation. One of my next themes will be to talk about staging the “Sugar Daddy”.

When did you start working as a photographer?

I started photography in 2013 after my film studies. I am self-taught and at the beginning I was making very simple and classic images. It wasn’t until 2018 that I really discovered the world that suited me and since then everything has changed.

What do you like photographing?

What I like about my work is that I can tell stories with a still image. I always dreamed of working in film. It was complicated and difficult so photography was an effective alternative. Every shoot and the preparation of the set and lights is like a film shoot for me. That’s what makes me tick. I like to discover the way people look at my work, to see them amazed or on the contrary to hate what I do. Creating emotions in the viewer, whether it’s positive or negative, is very enjoyable.

Who do you admire?

My main inspirations are directors like Gregg Araki, Wong Kar Wai, Gus Van Sant or Xavier Dolan. In photography I admire an artist who left us last January called James Bidgood. Without him queer art today would be very different. Nobody knows it but he gave a new breath and above all created something new. There is also David Lachapelle who is a reference and Mapplethorpe of course.

What is the easiest and the most difficult part of your job?

The most difficult part is creating the sets. I often have a limited budget so I have to find ways to make big sets with little money. The making of the sets is also complicated. Sometimes it takes me 24 hours. It’s a lot of energy and I’m alone to do it all. The moment of the shooting is exciting but it doesn’t last long. It’s one of the moments I love and above all it’s a moment of sharing with the model who often become friends afterwards. This is probably the easiest part, especially when there is a good feeling with the model.

Is there a lot of competition in your field?

Not in France. The only photographers I know who can come close to my world are Pierre et Gilles, but it’s still quite different. I am really in a style that is very rare in France and that doesn’t really attract art galleries. This may explain why my work works better abroad. My country is still very closed to the idea of putting so much emphasis on the LGBTQIA+ community. We are quite puritanical.

What is the most common thing that you are asked during a photoshoot?

When I have client shoots, I’m not usually asked for anything in particular. The clients are very cool, they tell me that I can do whatever I want with the decor and the theme. They trust me completely and that’s great. Of course, I often get client requests (which I refuse, of course) from men who want to do a photo shoot imagining that there will be a sexual plus afterwards. There is still a very negative and stereotypical image of being a gay man who takes photographs of naked men. So I often have to refuse this kind of proposal and explain that sex and art should not be mixed.

How do you like to capture the male beauty through your lenses?

I always say I want it to be sensual but not sexual, exciting but not vulgar. That’s the most complicated thing. Of course, there are a lot of my fantasies that are staged in my photos. For me nudity is something natural, it avoids artifice.

Who is behind the concept of each photoshoot? Is it you or the models who bring the idea and decide on the outcome?

Each photoshoot is thought out by me. I think about the theme, the setting, the lights and then I do a casting or I take from my notebook to find the model who corresponds to what I’m looking for. They can refuse if the theme is too daring for them but it rarely happens. During the shooting they always give me full confidence and let me decide on the poses and expressions. I have total freedom over my work from start to finish. They also sign an image right as my photographs are then sold worldwide in limited editions.
Instagram : romainb_photos

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