Let’s meet up with… Pacifico Silano!

In 2012 you were one of the winners of Pride Photo Award. Your photo series Where the Boys Are, in which you examine life before the AIDS epidemic through the use of photography and appropriated imagery, won first prize in the Open Category. Why did you decide to enter the competition?


I had heard about the Pride Photo Award contest the year previous, but then forgot about it. When I saw the call for entries for Pride Photo Award 2012, I thought: I should apply to that. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for LGBTQ-artists to get ahead, to have some exposure, so this was a great chance.


It turned out to be a pretty amazing experience, because it brought me to Amsterdam. I met a lot of new people over there. The other award winners were great. I still talk to quite a few of them to this day. It also opened my eyes, because I didn’t realize my work could bring me somewhere else. Since I live in New York and my work is about New York, I lead a rather insular life. In Amsterdam I realized my work was more universal than I thought. I would love to come over to Europe for a project and broaden the scope of my work.


How did you come up with the topic of Where the Boys Are?


At the time, I was in graduate school and getting ready to work on my thesis. I was making work that was about gay leather culture, but at a certain point I decided that Robert Mapplethorpe had done it better (laughs). So, I started to look at my own history and my own connection to the LGBTQ community. My uncle passed away from AIDS in 1989. He was a mystery to me. My family had kept a lot of his story a secret. I started to get really fascinated by this man, who lived during one of the most tumultuous times in gay rights history. He was in his early twenties in the early eighties. He was living in New York. In short, my uncle was right there as it was happening.


I wanted to recreate and investigate that time in my uncle’s life, so I started collecting things from the seventies and eighties: photographs, slides, pornography magazines. I purchased a whole bunch of vintage Blueboy magazines, which was a gay lifestyle magazine in the USA. It was published between 1975 and the 2000’s, but I specifically honed in on the period from 1975 to 1983, the year they wrote their first article about AIDS. I created one of the photos in Where the Boys Are by selecting nine centerfolds from Blueboy magazine and placing their headshots in a grid. For me it became a memorial, nine sets of eyes making contact with the men who are meant to consume the magazine.


You didn’t create all the photos in Where the Boys Are by appropriating pre-existing images. Sometimes you took real photos yourself. Why did you do this?


One of the photos I took myself is the photograph of a leather jacket. I wanted to create an image that that felt like a body bag, something dark and ominous. There are a lot of leather photos I could have picked, but for some reason I couldn’t find the image I had in my head. So sometimes I have to create something. And of course, sometimes I simply want to create something.


My background as a photographer informs my appropriation. And vice versa. They are very much in connection with one another. Sometimes I’m able to make something from a pre-existing image, sometimes I’m not. I want my photos to be in dialogue with something from the past. Taking something from the past, making something in the present, juxtaposing these two and making them have a conversation: maybe that’s the strength of my work. If I wouldn’t take photos myself, my work would perhaps look like a bunch of reworked photos (laughs). That might be interesting, but that’s not what I strive for.


Upon inspection of your website, I got the impression you’re not done yet with your Where the Boys Are project. Is it as a tree that keeps growing new branches?


Yes, very much so. My uncle was the original entry point, but I found that I’m really invested in all those who belonged to the lost generation of gay men who passed away from AIDS. The project I work on now is called Pages of Blueboy Magazine and will be shown at the Second AIM Biennial at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. In Amsterdam I showed a grid of nine male centerfolds from Blueboy magazine, but now I have extended it to one hundred, because there were hundred pages in a Blueboy magazine. Generally the centerfolds are nude, but I have honed in on their face, so it becomes a full-page headshot. I have compiled those over the past six months. They will be attached to a wall. I’m really excited about it. Sometimes particular pieces become bigger and bigger, but they still fit into their original framework.


Is there something you would like to pass on to future participants of Pride Photo Award?


I would say: be true to your vision. And put something out you care about. Don’t just send in three photographs; send in a series you’re invested in. Everyone who won in last year’s competition, they were all doing something that was resonated with them. They were passionate. And you could tell that: it was visible in the work.


Niels van Maanen is art historian and critic, Amsterdam

(c) Pacifico Silano

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.


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