Dustin Thierry paints a loving picture of Europe’s ballroom scene
The photographer addresses the Netherland’s issues with racialisation and objectification.
Left: Opulence, Thaynah Vineyard at the 'We Are The Future And The Future Is Fluid' Ball organised by Legendary Marina 007 and Mother Amber Vineyard. Body painting by visual artist Airich. Amsterdam 2018. Right: Opulence.
These immortal words from Junior LaBeija in Paris Is Burning became the inspiration behind the name of Dustin Thierry’s ongoing photo story, Opulence. “It came to me from my former partner, who once told me this when I was going through a tough time,” he says. “She was inferring that I own my state of mind. This sentiment felt so invaluable.”
Born on the Caribbean island of Curaçao — a former colony of the Netherlands — Dustin’s first introduction to photography came via a CASIO QV-10 that belonged to his stepfather. “The camera was groundbreaking for its era,” he says. “I remember walking around with it on the ranch and on the beaches of Guana Bay in Sint Maarten. I mainly shot porches of houses, waves and some images from our car. My stepfather didn't like me playing with it because it was too expensive to be considered a toy. Around 2009, I discovered the magic of the darkroom through the images I developed. Working in the dark with music on and playing with the chemicals was something so meditative... I was instantly hooked.”
In 2013, Dustin was working as the resident photographer of a nightclub in Rotterdam. Working through the grief that came from the loss of his brother, who took his own life back in Curaçao after struggling with his sexuality, Dustin was encouraged to take pictures that celebrated the intersections of sexuality, gender and race. After finding out about Amber Vineyard, mother of The House of Vineyard, who was organising her first ballroom event, a collaboration was born. From here, Opulence was born.
“As a visual artist I work very intuitively, and after my brother's suicide I felt the need to use my platform to promote real change. I wanted to create a project that would address issues of representation, exoticism, toxic masculinity, the importance of safe spaces and family structures. The Dutch photographic landscape hasn't been equipped with understanding why these issues are so crucial, and to this day homosexuality is strongly stigmatised and condemned within the Caribbean community. Furthermore, Black people from former colonies and the Caribbean islands are increasingly racialised and objectified in the Netherlands. Opulence is at the intersection of documentary and fashion photography, but it's also about enforcing structural change in the art world by creating community and paving the way for others to enter.”
The resulting images — previously exhibited at Foam Photography Museum Amsterdam last year, and as part of numerous group shows — are now on display at contemporary art museum The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Deeply personal, and very opulent, Dustin’s series is filled with love, respect and admiration for its subjects.
Dustin Thierry - Opulence will be showing at The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven until 4 April 2021
All images courtesy Dustin Thierry