Born in a small town of Spain, Gerardo Vizmanos started questioning socially accepted norms from an early age. He first studied law and formed himself to be a great lawyer by working for various law firms. But at one point he guessed that photography, which was just a hobby back then, moved him and gave him an opportunity to express his true self, his identity. As a gay man, Gerardo has experienced much of what homosexual people have to overcome and fight against throughout their lifetimes, be it the struggle of social acceptance or the decision of coming out. But he is the one who succeeded and proved everyone through his photography that where there's a will, there’s always a way.
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From corporate law practitioner to a photographer, how did you find yourself in photography?
I went to law school and I worked for big law firms and companies for many years in Europe and the United States. I was interested in photography at the level of an average person who takes photos of friends or while traveling. I was in my late thirties when I first took a camera in my hands, and I soon realized about the possibilities of photography. I was curious about how I could use the camera for expressing myself. I started experimenting and decided to go deeper in photography.
I took the Master’s in Photography program at Centro Universitario de Artes TAI in Madrid in 2010 while I was still working as a lawyer. Soon, conflicts arose between photography and my work – they both required a commitment to further progress. I then won the International Talent Support contest in Trieste (Italy) and was awarded a scholarship to continue my studies at School of Visual Arts in New York. Leaving my company for New York was a very big decision. I came to this city with no experience or contacts, but on the long-term, this really helped me. I retained a sense of freedom, and I was open to new things. Since then, I have been following my intuition and using my sense of improvisation.
The contrast between masculinity and femininity, manhood, homoerotism and gay culture are the most prominent topics in your works. What’s your opinion about gender?
I consider gender as a social construction tool mostly used for human classification. When I was younger I used to ask, "What is the point of being treated as he or she?" I was wondering why I should be like one or the other. I always felt very uncomfortable with the idea that social rules are an essence of being. My work revolves around the denial of those set social constructions, which are considered as part of our existence. My subjects have no tangible essence, and I don’t think the characters of my work are particularly feminine or masculine, I think they are gender neutral.
I work with male subjects that physically identify as male, but what I am trying to accomplish is taking out all the elements characterizing gender in general. I think that overall accepted traits of gender are no icons of masculinity or femininity. I don’t know whether my works are gay or not. It doesn't matter much to me while photographing. What I find important is my personal experience as a gay individual living in a society that is not willing to accept homosexuality.
I work with the tension of being accepted in an apparently welcoming society, which in reality forced me to live in denial of something very important to me. I see gender as part of the dominance between humans and I never felt comfortable with it. My main topic has always been – and still is – the essence of a human being and the lack of it. My first show after School of Visual Arts was named No One. It tackled the notion of the ‘impossibility’ of living without being someone. I have always been working against the pressure to include a social construction – like gender – as an essential element of being in my photography.
Gay themes and gay sexuality are very eye-catching in your photography. We see erotic beauty in them. What are those problems that gay people face nowadays?
To me being gay is more about political and ideological thinking than about having certain sexual preference or desire. Being gay is an experience of coming out and expressing yourself after society forces you to do so. For all gay people, the main issue is dealing with an experience of the closet, first how to find it and then how to escape it. Straight people have heard about the closet only from mass media, while we have experienced its effects in many different ways. The term sodomite was created by religion, the term homosexual is a clinic taxonomy; gay is a term formed by a social movement back when I was born.
Nowadays being gay is the outcome of social movements that begun in the ‘60s that changed the concept of the closet forever. People learned to be more tolerant. I am generally intrigued by the idea of weakness as the source of all the best, and I like using this idea in my photography. For example, when I work with dancers, I observe their hands and ankles. Without an ankle, they would not be able to fly in their jumps. Their weakest point of the body is simultaneously their main source of strength. Being humble and focusing on weakness is okay; there is nothing to be ashamed of because weakness is what makes us stronger, what stimulates us to be brave and come out.
Some people see my photos as erotic, though there is no sex in them or any other erotic element clearly depicted. Hypersexualization is not my thing, I don’t like over-emphasizing, but I feel comfortable when people encounter themselves through my work. I think the connection between my images and their desires is very interesting because there is definitely some erotism in the sources of my inspiration.
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You photograph dancers frequently. How did you start photographing them?
I grew up in a small city in Spain, and I used to go to a contemporary dance studio very often. I enjoyed watching the dancers, and they became my primary subjects when I first started photographing. To me, dancing is a concept, while movement is a way to express it. I don’t document the dancing itself, my works are very still in terms of movement. No matter what they do, the photos won’t move. I don’t ask them to dance a lot but I’m very demanding in terms of positions. I use my subjects as pieces of clay from which I can shape forms, though it’s not always comfortable for them.
There is a big difference between working with contemporary dancers and ballet. In ballet, there are lots of technical aspects which make my work much more complex. Even though I need technical elements while shooting, I don’t want them to be present in the photos. When working with contemporary classical dancers, everything goes perfectly, as they have both technical skills and simultaneously can focus their bodies on other critical aspects. Dancers are not the only ones I work with, but what I like to concentrate on are the body and its parts. Generally, hands and necks are very important to me; I like photographing people with beautiful hands, expressive necks, and I adore ankles – even though I don't photograph many of them, I love working with people with beautiful ankles. (laughs).
Your photo series Unidentified draws a line between memory and time, sorrow, and resentment. What’s the idea behind it?
These photos were taken back when I was shaping my photographic style. At that time, I was trying to connect my ideas with the visual expressions. Unidentified was shot in the period of my personal struggles: new city, new job, confronting complicated situations, putting my ideas into conflict, etc. In Unidentified I included the series of photos I took in Berlin that summer, which emphasised the idea that grieving can be defeated only by going through pain. Sometimes we don’t succeed to do so, which results in putting the past in the future, replicating grief and the feeling of being in permanent debt. I like to disconnect my works from time and space and let things go to the memory.
The beauty of body movement, nudity and sexuality is celebrated in your series called Subject Matter(S). What does this shooting has to say?
Nudity is our normal state. The question is why we use clothes, not why we remove them. Clothes are just an addition to our bodies. A nude person is a reality behind the garments. Any element you add to a nude body, let’s say flowers, fabrics, objects or clothes, does not change the fact that nudity is the natural condition of every human being. We were all born naked. When I think about my fashion photographs, the body always appears to be the source of the taken image. To my mind, the body is the most appealing when photographed in its natural condition.
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What is needed to make non-mainstream fashion photography with an offbeat outcome?
I see many layers in fashion, some very different to the others, but all united under the same name. On one hand, there is a clothing industry that needs images to sell, and on the other hand, there is fashion, which is a form of art that is supported by an industry. There are many crossing points between these two. They are interconnected, but they are not the same. Clothes are for sale and profit generation, while fashion is art where photographers come into the scene and represent it through images.
I think that in order to make a non-mainstream fashion shooting, it is important to find the connection between fashion elements and link them with emotional impulses. In the non-mainstream fashion, experimentation is highly important. I noticed that film is returning to photography. Many young photographers are using old-school methods that highlight interesting creative options. This is what makes an outcome unique and eye-catching. Current, developing tendencies are very interesting and things are constantly changing in photography. What is yet to come is even more exciting.
Tell me about your New York solo exhibition Hidden Subject earlier this year. What were the main themes?
Hidden Subject deals with movement, bodies, and shapes. I used the visual language to address philosophical concepts surrounding the notion of being. The concept of ‘subject’ is central in my works, and I concentrated on a latent sexuality, which is present but remains hidden. There were two areas in the gallery, and I planned two parts of the show. The first was Hidden Subject – large-format images were displayed in the core space of the gallery; and the second part was The Wall – specific composition of images that were displayed in the entry space of the gallery. Photographs from both sides were in dialogue with each other but were presented in different ways, precisely as an installation combining different medias and sizes.
What advice would you give to the emerging photographers, who are striving to come into the spotlight?
The best advice is to be yourself. Understand who you really are and stay true to yourselves. Always play and experiment with your ideas. When entering the industry, you will guess that sometimes you have to wrap things up and please the audience but never lose the truth. The truth is what everyone appreciates. Maybe what you are doing today is not a masterpiece, but don’t be afraid, you will find your niche; the good is there waiting to be discovered. People like to talk a lot about passion, but to me, passion is just an obsession. Do not oppress yourselves, stay free and don’t copy others.
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