BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! Editor and co-founder Ghislain Pascal on combating homophobic censorship – «It’s fine art photography. I don’t want anybody to presume it’s pornography»
The Little Black Gallery
BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! is an online gallery and e-commerce site by The Little Black Gallery, curated by co-founder Ghislain Pascal, to promote queer and gay photography, including exhibitions, magazines, books, and photography courses. Counting works from photographers based in Iran, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, and Poland, where queer lives are under constant threat, BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! provides a platform to artists who find their work censored.
«These are countries where it’s not safe to be gay. So it’s hard for these photographers to find a platform, to find galleries to work with. With the onset of social media, we all were excited, but unfortunately, most of the photographers I work with are regularly censored. There is homophobic censorship, particularly of male photography. We’re the first and only online art platform dedicated to just queer and gay photography». Their newest project is the biannual magazine BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! features the work of ten photographers from ten different countries.
Inspired by Pascal’s desire to provide that necessary platform for these photographers, BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! allows a new generation to engage with gay and queer photography in an accessible way. «It’s a fine art photography magazine. I don’t want anybody to presume it’s pornography», Pascal explains. «There are magazines out there that cater to the queer and gay market in terms of pictures of nice hunky men. Of course, there are some of those, but it’s in the context of fine art photography, and everything that we do is through that prism. We’re trying to provide a platform to a market sector that is ignored».
Lampoon interviews: Ghislain Pascal
«Only yesterday, one of my photographers had the poster of our new exhibition taken down», Pascal says. Even the e-commerce platform has faced difficulties with service providers and credit card companies, who brand their content as ‘indecent material’. «It’s becoming harder and harder. We’ve had video hosting sites censor our interviews with artists. It’s never-ending». In a year when opportunities have been taken from creatives en masse, censorship is particularly harmful, especially when relentless. «These photographers, it was hard enough before Coronavirus, they earn a small living, then you remove all the exhibitions, you censor their work. It’s no wonder mental health is a common issue for people in the creative industries».
Pascal first opened The Little Black Gallery in London’s Chelsea in 2008 with his business partner, Tamara Beckwith Veroni. «I was Bob Carlos Clarke’s agent. Sadly he killed himself in 2006, so we opened the gallery in his memory, launched with his images and some of his friends’ work, people like Patrick Lichfield. We were very much known as a sexy gallery for girls». Along the way, Pascal met a Canadian photographer and former senior fashion editor at AnOther, AnOther Man, and Dazed and Confused, Tyler Udall. «He’s gay, and he shoots his friends, and I bought some of his pictures from a gallerist in New York, and then before you know it, we were representing him».
Though he greatly admired Udall’s work, Pascal couldn’t quite find the right fit for it at the gallery. «We had done a group show called GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!, so BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! seemed like the natural next step». What followed was a group show in association with online auction house Paddle8 in 2017. As a result, the last two years have seen BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! publish two books, first independently, then with teNeues | MENDO, and establish a fully-fledged e-commerce platform. «The more we do with BOYS! BOYS! BOYS!, the more people approach me to join the program, and now we’ve got over sixty-five photographers from thirty countries».
At the crux of BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! Magazine is Pascal’s hope that it will open people’s eyes to queer and gay stories from an array of photographers. In late 2020, he received an email from Israeli photographer Niv Shank with a photo series entitled By The Lake. Pascal was intrigued but unsure if it would fit on the site, «I was looking at it thinking, maybe I could pick one or two for the platform, but it would be such a shame not to show the whole story. So I hung up on him and decided to publish a magazine. In all of three months». Designed by Jeremy Kunze, the magazine is intended to be a collector’s edition.
«We want every magazine to be collected. But, much to Jeremy’s despair, the issues will be in the color of the rainbow. Each issue will be a different color, so you will have a rainbow once you put them all on your bookshelf. He didn’t like that idea, but I overruled him».
Gay and Queer photography
Among the ten photographers included in Volume One are Udall, Shank, and Danish photographer Michael Søndergaard. Pascal was so overwhelmed by photographers wishing to be a part of the magazine that he already had ten lined up for Volume Two. Each magazine sale will donate one dollar to LGBTQ+ charities and those combating HIV/ AIDS: «Why not? It’s not like I’m going to make money from the magazine, so we might as well give something back. With the BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! books we donated to charity and with GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! we donated to the Lady Garden Foundation, a charity set up by my business partner, Tamara. It’s inherent that we should all be more philanthropic».
What Pascal truly hopes BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! can bring an acceptance of gay and queer photography to the contemporary art scene for what it is – «an integral part of the art community», he says. «You don’t have to be gay or queer to buy or appreciate it; there’s a spectrum. So when I curate, I have to think about this too, particularly on the platform. It can’t just be my taste. We’re not trying to be a social reportage of the gay and queer community because that would be endless, and I have to bear in mind that we’re a gallery. We have to sell the work». However, as he acknowledges, fine art is still something few people can easily afford. The gallery has created a lower entry point for collectors with books and magazines. «We’ve done two BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! posters and sets of postcards for that very reason. We’re trying to make it accessible».
How to create a photography book
Putting together the two books and magazines has been the most enjoyable part of BOYS! BOYS! BOYS!, says Pascal, who finds curation comes naturally. «The simplest thing with a book is to keep the first edit you do. The more you tinker with something – you pull images out, you put images in – the worse it gets». His working relationship with designer Jeremy Kunze of Studio Kunze, with whom he has collaborated many times, including on a recent Bob Carlos Clarke book, has been an integral part of this project. «I’m not a designer, and I can’t claim to be, but I’ve got a good eye. I send my edit to Jeremy, who is on the same wavelength. Very rarely do I have to move stuff around. It’s a joy. Initially, I was slightly worried as he doesn’t identify as queer or gay, but it doesn’t matter because he’s looking at it from a design perspective».
AdeY and Boys!Boys!Boys!
In addition to the biannual publication, BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! has hosted monthly online exhibitions throughout lockdown, giving a spotlight to photographers that they represent. «We’re only doing ten or twelve images, so it’s not overwhelming to the senses, and they’re all available to buy at the click of a button. They’re not flying out, nothing’s flying out now, but it’s consistent. We’re building up an archive of work that will always be there, giving the photographers something to be happy about».
One of the featured works was Boys Will Be Boys by an English-Swedish photographer and choreographer, AdeY, whose distinct style excites Pascal. «He’s annoyingly multi-talented», he jokes. «I met him very early on in BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! and he’s become a good friend. You can see that he’s a choreographer in his imagery. The majority of the people in the pictures are dancers. I’m sure if somebody gave me one hundred photographs and snuck in one or two of AdeY’s, I would be able to pick them out». According to Pascal, possessing such an innate, distinct style is key to standing out and finding success in the art and photography world.
Boys!Boys!Boys! Volume 3
«It is exactly one year since we launched our BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! magazine» says Pascal, «We are now distributed in hundreds of stockists worldwide, with new retailers coming on board every week». The magazine just published its third issue, Volume 3, featuring photographers from Argentina, Belgium, France, Iran, Italy, Spain, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam.
Last year the magazine also launched its first BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! Photography Competition, for which many candidates participated. «I am delighted to announce that the winner is Italian photographer Alessandro Pollio. We welcome him to the BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! family and are proud to publish his story A Life Ecstatic in this issue», notes Pascal. The photographic artworks by Alessandro Pollio are on display on BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! website too, within an online exhibition where it is possible to buy his images available as fine art prints.
Ghislain Pascal is the co-founder of BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! and The Little Black Gallery, one of London’s top photography galleries. He is an avid collector of photography, including many queer photographs housed in a new permanent exhibition space at his home in France.
BOYS! BOYS! BOYS!
It is an art platform from The Little Black Gallery, curated by co-founder Ghislain Pascal, to promote queer and gay photography. It includes work from more than 65 photographers from over 30 countries, including Iran, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, and Poland, where gay rights are repressed and queer lives under constant threat. BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! provides a platform to artists who often find their work censored. It includes exhibitions, magazines, books, photography courses, and more.
The Little Black Gallery
The Little Black Gallery operates as a photography gallery, publisher, and art consultancy – specializing in contemporary photography.