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Normalizing Queer Fetishes Through Self-Portrait Photography

Aurélien Nobécourt Arras

French photographer Aurélien Nobécourt Arras picked up the camera 10 years ago. Formally trained in film photography, he’s always explored in some way or another the different ways in which the body is represented. “I discovered sexuality in photography with George Pitts,” he says, “I thought, this is what photography is for, this is what I want to be doing. Like my first, really comprehensive sex-ed class.” But his photography screams anything but sex-ed.

Related | Gallery: Normalizing Queer Fetishes Through Self-Portrait Photography

Inspired by a mixture of Robert Mapplethorpe, Claude Cahun and Nobuyoshi Araki, Nobécourt Arras has spent a significant amount of time integrating abrupt sexuality with the delicate medium of film photography. “I associate digital photography with technology—[it] has tied the medium to the values of our time: high-efficiency, immediate results, massive outputs, too much choice... It complicates photography unnecessarily.” His rejection of this contemporary moment of hyper-complication for the sake global simplification seeps through every single of his photographs. What is simpler than a body wanting another?

Through this exploration of the laws of attraction and our most basic desire for sex, Nobécourt Arras makes the shocking normal and the unusual fun. “We [consider] certain sex practices acceptable, but other practices are still buried deep in the stigmas of fetish or 'perverse' behavior. At one point in history, sex for anything other than procreation was considered perverse, so who are we kidding?”

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It comes as no surprise then that Nobécourt Arras has chosen to include himself in many of his photographs and make his subjects more or less anonymous. This vulnerabilizing gesture places the artist at the center of his work, taking the responsibility of carrying the weight of representing all kinds of sexualities on his back. More than that, though, Nobécourt Arras also establishes a space for men to get their freak on without having to face the shame and marginalization they would otherwise face by exposing themselves. But by no means is Nobécourt Arras advocating for men to hide their true sexual desire. Rather, by putting himself in the front lines, he’s making it clear that it’s not a risk, it’s a liberation.

"I think gay culture can and should be much more interesting," he says. "We weren't marginalized for generations to in turn marginalize others, let alone ourselves. I'm not saying everyone is or should be wild in bed (or wherever), but to me sexual behavior is just another form of human behavior, and by extension it is as varied and diverse as humanity itself."

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