Photographer Drasko Bogdanovic is (half) joking about how he’ll draw audiences to his upcoming exhibit at La Petite Mort Gallery.
“Come for the boners and stay for the art,” Bogdanovic says, laughing.
A photographer of homoeroticism, he attempts to capture both the arousing and the artistic.
“People are uncomfortable with men flaunting their beauty,” Bogdanovic says. “When you look through magazines, porn, pop culture, it’s always that masculine stereotype — buff, huge-muscled guys. But beauty always plays on some kind of feminine side.”
His work shimmies along the line between glamour shot and personal memento. He uses a combination of professional and amateur models, shooting them in both staged and candid poses. He further mixes genres by using both natural lighting and classical posture.
Born in Sarajevo in 1977, Bogdanovic realized his attraction to other boys early.
“Of course, I met boys attracted to other boys and we fooled around,” says Bogdanovic. “One of the boys had to be transferred to another school once everybody found [out] he was fooling around with me.”
Following the siege of Sarajevo, Bogdanovic and his family moved to Canada. After living in Guelph for several years, he moved to Toronto where he is now based.
A self-taught abstract and expressionist painter, Bogdanovic found the craft too time-consuming. He became attracted to the instantaneous nature of photography and started experimenting with landscape shots. Now Bogdanovic alternates between painting and photography.
“With abstract photographs, the nature of a photograph always has time and place; with abstract painting, it’s completely imaginary,” Bogdanovic explains. “Trying to [draw] that from photography, it’s a surreal space.”
Artistically speaking, Bogdanovic has eclectic influences. He is an admirer of the exaggerated sexuality of Tom of Finland as well as the grimy aesthetic of Toronto director Bruce LaBruce. While photographic masters such as Maurice Tabard and André Kertész hold appeal, so do Slava Mogutin and Sam Scott Schiavo.
As for his own work, Bogdanovic simply captures what he finds sexy.
“Sometimes I look for guys that don’t have much modelling experience,” Bogdanovic says. “They are more honest, kind of raw.”
In fact, his boyfriend appears among his subjects, from sessions that Bogdanovic says bolstered his interest in male nudes. His silhouette, entitled Introspective, is included in the exhibit.
One of Bogdanovic’s more offbeat sources of inspiration for his work is the pornography of the 1970s and 1980s.
“I find that, at that time, men did not differ so much; they had the same look whether gay or straight. You know, they have all a little bit of moustache,” Bogdanovic says. “When you look at today’s gay and straight porn, gay guys are completely smooth and, you know, plucked eyebrows. Straight guys look a little bit different. At that time, it was just men.”
Spurred on by these influences, Bogdanovic’s steamy work is receiving some hot press. His work is featured in an ongoing landscape show in Beijing and may also show in Munich this fall. In 2010, he plans to exhibit in Germany and China — and he may come back to Ottawa for a second go.
To date, Bogdanovic’s proudest career moment was going home for the first ever Sarajevo Queer Festival last September.
“I was so thrilled when they invited me to show over there,” he says. “It was very brave…of them to do that.”
Unfortunately, the experience was marred by homophobic attacks. Protesters violently confronted participants outside festival venues. In response, organizers cancelled some events or moved them to private sites. They ultimately had to cancel the festival due to continual intimidation, death threats and violence.
“The reaction — riots — nobody expected that,” says Bogdanovic. “People got beaten up and dragged out of cabs on the way to the hospital. It was just brutal. General society didn’t care so much because the festival is in a gallery. Most people chose if they wanted to see it or not. It was just the fundamentalists and extremists that hadn’t even seen the show.”
While rioting is unlikely at La Petite Mort, Bogdanovic’s portraits are sure to provoke some strong reactions — like arousal.
“As soon as you put a camera in front of somebody, they try to portray themselves as better or different,” says Bogdanovic. “Sometimes, I like to play along with that to see what I’m going to get. Depending on the person, I like to get their honest side as well.“