Queer and on camera

ROMAIN BERGER IS A 33-YEAR-OLD PHOTOGRAPHER BASED IN RENNES WHO IS PRODUCING SOME OF THE FINEST AND MOST EXCITING LGBTQ+ IMAGES WE HAVE SEEN IN AGES. NIGEL ROBINSON TALKS TO HIM ABOUT HIS “PROVOCATIVE UNIVERSE”, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PORTRAYING THE QUEER COMMUNITY

Queer and on camera

ROMAIN BERGER IS A 33-YEAR-OLD PHOTOGRAPHER BASED IN RENNES WHO IS PRODUCING SOME OF THE FINEST AND MOST EXCITING LGBTQ+ IMAGES WE HAVE SEEN IN AGES. NIGEL ROBINSON TALKS TO HIM ABOUT HIS “PROVOCATIVE UNIVERSE”, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PORTRAYING THE QUEER COMMUNITY

What inspired you and how did you become a photographer? 

After my film studies I went to live in Paris to find work in this field. You go to Paris like you go to New York to try to become famous and work in the art world. 

Unfortunately, there is a difference between the movies and reality. I did some filming, but I didn’t get a real job in the cinema. One day I decided to buy a digital camera to produce my own short films. That’s when I discovered photography, in 2013. I am totally self-taught and I made a mix between cinema and photography, that’s why I make this style of photographs. I really wanted to tell stories through photography. 

IN TERMS OF ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY WHO ARE YOUR INFLUENCES AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THEM?

 I was mostly inspired by the cinema. I have more culture for directors than for photographers. Gregg Araki, Wong Car Wai, Xavier Dolan, Gus Van Sant… But if I have to name two photographers who are a real influence for me, it’s David LaChapelle and James Bidgood. Their worlds are so wonderful. LaChapelle taught me how to direct with set design and Bidgood the colourful, kitschy aesthetic that I love so much. 

You describe your work as a “provocative universe”. What do you mean? 

I describe my work as provocative in the sense that the models are regularly naked. I love homo-eroticism and this is reflected in my work. It is the poses of my models that give my work a provocative aspect. The provocation also comes from the subjects and stories I can create. When I talk about religion and homosexuality, I deliberately play with provocation. These are ambivalent worlds. 

“I’m a big advocate of not having a boy/ girl aesthetic, so if I said there was a queer aesthetic it would be a bit ironic”

YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS HAVE BEEN DESCRIBED AS SEXY, PROVOCATIVE AND KITSCH. I ALSO THINK SOME OF THEM ARE GREAT FUN, AND SOME RATHER DARK. DO YOUU THINK THIS REPRESENTS THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY AND THE WORLD AT LARGE?

Indeed, I like to make works that are sometimes amusing, sometimes darker. I like to create something in the viewer, an emotion. For me it represents the queer community. People equate queer with party, excess, bright colours, originality. I’m a big advocate of not having a boy/ girl aesthetic, so if I said there was a queer aesthetic it would be a bit ironic. Of course there is, but it is created by society. Is society right? I don’t know. Aside from aesthetics, I would say that queers have a sense of party and show, so inevitably everything seems more excessive and crazy because we know how to have fun without taking ourselves seriously and without worrying about gender. But on top of the party, there is also the reality which is sometimes dark and which I need to show.

How do you choose your subject and your models? And how long does it take to set up the shoots? 

Before I choose my models, I first have the idea of the photograph. I have the theme, the story and then I look for the model that fits what I want to tell. Instagram is perfect for this and I find most of my models via social media. Sometimes it’s in the evening when I go out partying. From the moment I get the idea to the shoot, it takes about two weeks to complete a new design. I have to find the elements of the set, which I build myself, and that takes a lot of time. 

Of all your works, my favourites are your tableaux. How do you come up with your tableau ideas?

In my head it’s a rollercoaster. I always have a lot of ideas, sometimes they are very bad. They come to me at any time. Sometimes I’m drinking a coffee on the terrace, I’ll see people passing by and I’ll get the idea for a photo, sometimes it’s reading a magazine or watching the news. The world around me is always inspiring me. 

Why do you think it is essential that your work gives visibility to the LGBTQ+ community? 

I have never experienced homophobia, so at first it seemed natural to portray the queer community. Soon I realised that it was not so natural for society and my work became more committed. I want to be a voice for the forgotten people. There aren’t many queer artists in the world and there aren’t any very famous ones. So I want to show the world that we exist and that we have things to say. If I can help people accept themselves and show them that they are not alone, that’s important to me. It’s because of artists that the world is changing and by doing this work I’m trying to say to queer people, “You are not alone”. 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR ROMAIN BERGER? 

At the moment I am making a lot of new creations. A few months ago I was contacted by an English publisher who is going to publish a book about my work in the middle of the year, with a hundred of my creations. I still have a lot of photography to do before the deadline. It’s exciting but also very stressful. Knowing that a book will be on sale in English and French bookshops with my name on it is another dream come true. I’m also working on a solo exhibition in June (for Pride month) which will take place in a beautiful place in Rennes (I can’t wait!). In the last few months I have also been in discussions with a gallery in Rhode Island for a future exhibition, so it should happen sometime this year.

Go to: romainberger-photography.com