Ultimate Angels Part I – An interpretation of transgender community in 1980s Paris – An interview with photographer Byron Newman

London! From July 12th till July 23rd, the Herrick gallery will showcase a must see exhibition: Ultimate Angles by Byron Newman &  Aphrodite Papadatou. The two artists use different mediums to present their representations of transgender communities, one in Paris in the early 80s, the other, London, in all its present day glory. We talk with both artist about their visions and their work. First stop with photographer Byron Newmann.

KALTBLUT: Hi Byron. How does it feel to see that all these pictures you took in 80’s are being re-exposed, after all this time?
This is not the first time that the pictures have been seen. They were published in a book called the Ultimate Angels in 1984. In recent years the interest has been growing with Ponystep magazine publishing 26 pages 3 years ago and Dazed going with 12 pages last summer.  It is thrilling to see the interest in the work after 35 years, but I always thought that the photograph deserved to be seen by a greater audience.

KALTBLUT: What were you thinking back in the days when you start taking picture of these girls?
I was living in Paris at the time working as the art director for a French fashion magazine and living with a French actress called Brigitte Ariel who at that time was living in Pigalle in Paris. She pointed out to me that a lot of the girls who were working in that area, which for a long time had been a red light district, were not quite as they seemed.

KALTBLUT: What attracted you, to do so in the first place?
No one had done any photographs at the time of transsexuals except except Paris Match who had photographed them with infrared film and very long telephoto lenses. No one had done it because it was difficult and that is what attracted me to it. Most of my work at that time was very safe and secure, working out of studios. This was anything but. It was a challenge.

KALTBLUT: Was even the word “Transgender” already use back in the day?
Byron: The word transgender was not in use back then. It was a transsexual or transvestite.

KALTBLUT: Some of the photgraphy show the stigmata of hard drug uses. Did you also get the chance to talk with your models, maybe to develop a kind of friendship? How was their life ? How will you definite the relation you had with them?
Byron: It was absolutely necessary to develop a relationship with my subjects to gain the trust and for them to be able to see the project as a collaboration. Brigitte was essential in this process and I would not have been able to complete it without her. A single man with a camera approaching a transsexual sex worker in the streets was in their eyes …’a punter’. We decided from the outset that no money would exchange hands.

KALTLBUT: You were following the girls in their every day routine, and also in the night life. How will you describe the life their were living..

Different groups have different lifestyles. Most of the people I photographed where from Brazil, illegal immigrants, and lived in a very marginalised world, living almost in ghettos, and not mixing much with the outside world. A few were French citizens and they were much more integrated and some radicalised in terms of fighting for the rights of minority groups like themselves.

KALTBLUT: Did this experience impact on your work in a way ?
Byron: The project was very much a one off, quite early in my career as a photographer, and the fact that I was inexperienced and using fairly basic equipment, I think gives the pictures and immediacy and impact they maybe would not have had I had taken them later in my career.

KALTBLUT: After all this time, do you still have contacts with some of them?
Byron: Unfortunately I have lost touch with all the subjects in these photographs.

KALTBLUT: What was your first reaction seeing the work of Aphrodite Papadatou for the exhibition?
My first reaction was, wow, this girl has real talent.

KALTBLUT: What is your ultimate goal?
Byron: that would be to allow these pictures to gain a wider audience. I would also love to see a new edition of the original book with more pictures and text. I think in 1984 when the book was originally published it was a little, to put it mildly, ahead of its time. The time is now and I exhibit these pictures with pleasure and confidence.

WHAT?  Ultimate Angels
WHERE? Herrick gallery, 93 Piccadilly, London W1J7NQ
WHEN? 12 – 23 July 2017

Instagram: @herrickgallery


Instagram: @mightyafrodite

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