Since 2012, London College of Fashion graduate and regular i-D contributor, Olivia Rose, has been documenting the “Lost Boys.” From New York to Kingston to Bermuda to London, she has photographed a generation of boys who have been sucked into the system and forgotten about. Here she discusses the trials and tribulations of being a female photographer, fascinated by boyhood…
For the last five years I have been shooting a project that I have coined “The Lost Boys.” It’s a visual document of street kids, estate boys and gang members from all over the world, forgotten generations of people who have been lost to a system that ignores them as human beings and treats them as a problem to be dealt with. The whole idea behind my work is to street cast people for shoots without judgement, targeting demographics of people who are not normally photographed for fashion editorial – interesting faces, ethnic minorities, people with history, personality and a past – all things that really come through in the image – I like to think my work has soul because the people I shoot all have something to bring to the table and all have a story to tell that I can learn from.
But if I had a pound for every time someone gave me an incredulous look when I explained that I photograph boys, boys and mostly boys, I would be a very rich lady! I get a version of the same comment every time: “It’s unusual to find a female fashion photographer who portrays men with such a strong gaze…” But to me, it’s the most natural thing in the world.
First and foremost, I am attracted to men (and specifically men who are as different to me as possible, both aesthetically and culturally) and secondly, I maintain that one of the best ways to make someone comfortable on a shoot, is to flirt! There is something about portrait photography that cultivates a mentor and muse mentality and the longer I spend photographing someone (there are boys that I am still shooting four years on) the stronger that bond becomes.
So why, when male photographers go unquestioned for photographing female models, am I getting grilled for what I do like it’s an alien concept? Recently a (relatively inebriated) family member went so far as to ask me: “How do you expect to forge a career out of sleeping with hot men?!”
I was caught off guard and felt somewhere between amused and bemused – for a start, I don’t make a career out of sleeping with hot men, I make a career out of having an eye for men who will take a brilliant portrait. Inevitably this often means they are attractive but sleeping with me is not a pre-requisite of shooting with me – and finding a man attractive for a picture, is often a completely different thing to finding him attractive in ‘real life’.
The thing about boys and boyhood, is that they are an untapped source of inspiration. The cheeky eyes, the bolshy over-confidence, the insecurities, the energy and willingness to experiment – it all thrills me as a photographer. What’s better than having someone on a shoot who does an impromptu handstand, is too moody to smile, or too busy causing mischief to sit still?
The search for new lost boys to shoot is never ending, and I am known to drive down the street in my car, scream “FIT!” out of the window, screech the brakes to a halt (on whatever double yellow I stop on) and sprint to whomever I just discovered, in a desperate attempt to lure them behind my camera. If people want to judge me for my reaction to a beautiful face, or assume that everyone I find “fit for a picture” is going to be my next conquest - and if they have a problem with it because I’m female, then never before has the kind of work I do been more important in changing our ideas on female sexuality.
The most beautiful boys I have had the privilege to shoot are my assistant Jay Kirton and his brother Jerome, whom I met on a back street in Angel and fell instantly (photographically) in love with! When I asked them to describe what being a lost boy meant to them, they said: “someone who is on the way to finding themselves… being lost is a stage of evolution everyone has to go through in order to find themselves. But being lost is an illusion and when you realise that, life begins.” And for me, this is what working with the boys is all about. Working with guys who will benefit from your time and attention, making the portrait experience more than just photography.