Necks, armpits, backs, legs… But never faces. The new book by multi-hyphenate Miguel Flor, titled Boys Appetite and published by Stolen Books, is a compilation of photos taken during three years across the world, from Berlin to Tel Aviv, to Lisboa, Athens, Paris and Antwerp, which focuses on an “appetite for the taste of youth.”
It all started on a 1st of May in Berlin, when the Portuguese artist found himself surrounded by packs of young people enjoying the good weather, drinking beer, dancing to techno, and chatting to each other. Since then, he’s been taking photos – usually furtively – of guys he felt were interesting and, especially, of “elements or shapes that I find suggestive and subtly provocative.” Through his gaze, a regular ride on a bus turns into an intimate, even erotic moment.

His faceless portraits arouse the viewers’ voyeuristic desires; they leave us craving for more. But Miguel’s elusive gaze isn’t about voyeurism but about subtlety, intimacy. And also, about protecting his subjects’ identity and, above all, fighting social media’s selfies, which he finds meaningless. In a world of overexposure, Miguel’s work (and book) are a refreshing source of mystery.
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Miguel, it’s not easy to define you: you graduated from fashion design, won the Sangue Novo contest in ModaLisboa’s 1996 edition (you’ve been a member of the jury in recent editions), had your own label, and now are working as a fashion photographer, professor and editor in chief of Prinçipal, a magazine you founded. Those are some wonderful accomplishments, among many others. But tell me, were you always a creative kid?
I used to draw a lot, especially the clothes I’d choose to illustrate those drawings. Fashion was always a part of me, and since a very early age I knew that I wanted to work in it as a designer with the aim of dressing others as well as myself. When I was only 13, I decided to go forward with this decision – and my parents fully supported the decision.
I was always very curious and interested in everything that had a different aesthetic from the mainstream and from what was seen as conventional. The need to experiment with new styles (in the way I dressed, my hairstyle, the accessories, etc.) and the need to find my own identity made me creative.
You’ve worn many different hats in the fashion industry: designer, university professor, editor-in-chief, photographer… How do you think these roles feed off each other? Is there any ‘universal’ truth about fashion that remains the same despite your position in it?
When you get a degree in a specific area, you believe that your career will be closed and limited, and that you will have that profession for the rest of your life. Like any other fashion designer, in order to develop my own brand I needed the support of other professionals in areas such as graphic design, photography, fine arts, music, styling, etc. As a team, we built the brand’s visual concept and marketing strategies. When working closely with these professionals, I felt the need to learn how to use some of these tools and explore them in a way that I could see myself experiencing and completing every step of the creative process.
Economic reasons led me to become a professor. I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be limited to teaching fashion only; I could also reach other areas that are closely connected to the fashion world. I also didn’t want to have a unilateral relationship with my students, but instead be open to learn from their personal experiences, which would keep me updated and consequently would make me feel part of their youth. Fashion, like all creative areas, lives off this constant rejuvenation. Perhaps this is the ‘universal’ truth about fashion (laughs)!
We’re interviewing you though because of your first photo book, Boys Appetite, which you are publishing via Stolen Books, a compilation of photos taken from 2017 to 2020 mainly featuring boys. But how did it all start? Was it always your idea to work on a photo book?
Considering that all my professional experience as well as a large part of my journey as a designer happened before the Internet, books from specific artists gave me the possibility to know and understand each author. As complete as image search browsers are, they are nothing more than random images. A book is a complete work, it was thought to have a narrative, a format, a texture… It is a multisensory experience. In this regard, books and magazines have always been crucial tools of information and inspiration to me. The Face and i-D were authentic bibles. After a while, more and more magazines and books started to become part of my professional and intellectual horizon.
The opportunity of creating a magazine made my coming out as a photographer. Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram also contributed to this revelation, while printing on paper added another dimension to my images. Boys Appetite being an extremely intimate and personal work, I wanted to present it in a book format, like a kind of visual diary, as an extremely sensory object (of desire). Spending a lot of time at the printer’s overseeing Prinçipal magazine made me develop this close relationship with the company, which prints several art books. As a result, it made it possible to carry on with this project.
Chatting with my friend Sebastiao (product manager at Stolen Books publisher), I confessed him my desire of launching a book during my solo exhibition at Nuno Centeno gallery. From the very first minute, Stolen Books supported me, and with the contribution of my best friend João Cruz (Mountain Superstudio), who did the graphic design, the book was launched at the opening exhibition in January 2020.
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Porto, Lisboa, São Miguel (in the Azores islands), Athens and other Greek cities, Tel Aviv, Bilbao, Berlin, Paris, Antwerp, Sardegna, Bulgaria… You’ve collected pictures of boys from many different cities and countries, but they somehow feel similar to each other. Did you look for guys with a specific appearance wherever you were?
When I say that this book is a kind of visual diary, it’s because I carry my camera around my neck wherever I go – travelling for either leisure or work. I can’t refrain myself from registering these moments. The book begins as a journey with the image of a boy sitting on a bus on a trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – one like so many other military men who make this trip every day. I knew from the instant I took this photo, in April 2018, that it would be the cover of a book.
As it is an intimate look, it is possible to find on these pages a specific type of boy despite the global approach. I’m not exactly looking for them, they just appear before my eyes, and the circumstance makes the photo happen. That’s why this work happens in ordinary places; nothing is forced or staged. I am not in front of a school watching them walk by nor am I going to the club on purpose to watch them dance; I dance with them or catch a glimpse of them in the sun, because for me it’s their energy, youth, sensuality and eroticism that sharpens my desire. Actually, the objects photographed are not just the boys or parts of their bodies as if it were an anatomy class but other elements or shapes that I find suggestive and subtly provocative.
I remember seeing some photos of this series on your Instagram when we met at the Walk & Talk festival in Azores. You’ve taken many throughout the years, so editing and cutting the selection down must’ve been difficult. What criteria did you follow? As an editor-in-chief, used to choosing the photos that work best for a specific story, do you feel it was somehow easier for you to do so?
At the beginning, I thought that because this was a more intimate job or because I was used to doing it for the magazine, it would be more immediate. But that didn’t happen. Boys Appetite is not a single story but several revealing many people throughout three years.
I had many pictures on the table, some of which I had already shared on Instagram and others that I had never previously shown – many of the latter gained strength at the time of making the final selection. I lost the fear of mixing different situations as if they were different flashbacks that happened during those three years. As there were contrasting situations between day and night, I liked to jump from one to the other as if I was recreating that moment when you leave after hours party without sunglasses or when you enter the strobe light in the middle of the night. In the end, there is a dialogue between all of them but it isn’t obvious – or that was never the idea.
There are many photographs that could be part of a new book together with many others that I have been producing lately, such as the series of pictures I took this summer in São Miguel, in the Azores, for the Walk & Talk festival.
We see all the boys from behind or, at least, we never see their faces or expressions. This anonymity arouses our curiosity, making us question who they are and what do they look like. It’s equal parts unnerving and mysterious. Do you want to leave the audience with this feeling of ‘unfinished business,’ of curiosity and craving for more?
The Boys Appetite photo series started in Berlin during a short stay. It was the 1st of May, and the streets were full of young people showing their scruffs heated by the spring breeze or by the heat of techno beats. Bottles and cans of beer mingled with the scent of hotdogs cooked at the stalls. On an electricity pole, I noticed a sticker that said the word ‘appetite. It was exactly what I felt, what was going on there. An appetite for the taste of youth.
From that moment on, I started using the hashtag #bosysappetite in all images I took of boys showing their backs, with their scruffs, necks, shoulders, upper bodies and/or with their armpits exposed. In the spontaneity of these street photographs, I was always interested in protecting the identity of these boys by capturing only the areas that I consider erogenous and that are the focus of my work, and with them to open the appetite of the viewers.
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While some pictures seem intimate and taken with consent, others look like street snapshots, where you just found the perfect opportunity to immortalize someone’s back without them noticing – as the subjects remain anonymous, I don’t think there’s a problem with that. Tell us more about this combination of subjects you know and random people you encountered on the street, restaurants, clubs, etc.
In addition to identity protection, especially from people I don’t know, I’m interested in contradicting the selfies that nowadays invade social networks. I have deleted and I’m not even interested in following some profiles of boys who only publish selfies – with the exception of some models that I know or that are professionally interesting. These consecutively identical posts have no meaning to me.
In contrast to the fashion photographs that I take when I’m working on editorials, brand lookbooks, etc., where the aim is to sell a product and in which I usually show the beautiful face of the models, in Boys Appetite there is never a face or any product for sale, just the printed photographs or the book. As I have the opportunity to work with models, I started using some breaks in-between photoshoots to catch them through the camera in more intimate moments, where they act more natural. In fact, both situations are valid in my universe of desire. I find spontaneity in both as there is no place for poses.
Also, as a curiosity, do you have any remarkable/funny anecdotes from shooting? Maybe someone caught you taking their picture?
Not really… just friends of mine making jokes about pictures they take of me while trying to capture a boy without being noticed (laughs). I often try not to be noticed, but I always forget that there are always people behind me watching what I am doing! I consider myself a reporter of the youth, that’s why I consider that I am not committing any crime or being abusive towards the people or situations that inspire me.
As natural and innocent as they may seem, I feel like these pictures and the book overall have some underlying homoerotic connotations. Am I right? I mean, the title itself gives it away a little bit…
It is natural, it is a gay eye, a constant peeking and a desire to unveil and taste (appetite). Boys Appetite is subtle, romantic and at the same time, explosive, carnal, provocative.
Lately, I’ve encountered several projects of books compiling the work of queer photographers – from Ghislain Pascal’s Boys! Boys! Boys! to Benjamin Wolberg’s New Queer Photography. How do you feel your book fits within this global context of redefining queerness and queer photography?
We are in a very important moment of affirmation and reflection on the way homosexuality is portrayed, either visually, musically or literarily. I have a lot of respect and admiration for projects that contribute to this reflection. I don't know the sexual orientation of the boys I photograph in most cases. The gay dimension that the photos reach is just the result of my gaze.
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