When French photographer Frédéric Nauczyciel traveled to Baltimore in 2011 on a photography grant, he had plans to create a project focusing on a character from The Wire. All that changed when he witnessed some ballroom vogue dancers practicing in a side parking lot.
"I met Baltimore Voguers, instead, and stayed five months and started coming back and forth for the last three years," he explained to BuzzFeed. "I was very curious because it was nothing like I thought I knew about voguing, and also because I thought voguing had became mainstream in New York." Knowing very little about ballroom culture himself, Nauczyiel began to go see the dancers perform every Tuesday night at a local club and asked some of the voguers to pose for him. That work became the foundation for what would become his new collection called The Fire Flies [Baltimore / Paris].
In his own words, Naucyzciel describes his work:
"We deconstructed the vogue poses to go back to the origins, the covers of Vogue Magazine."
"These photographs are studies. For the shootings, we would stage outdoors – in their backyards or neighborhoods."
"Baltimore row houses are very particular of the city, and I insisted on the idea that I was working with voguers from Baltimore – from the ghettos of a city with no subway, no museum, no fashion show rooms."
"It is flamboyant, savant, baroque. I wanted to gather all those layers in photographs that would look like academic portraits."
"I convinced them to show their flamboyant beauty and fierceness in the middle of the city that made them who they are."
"They are fireflies: The faint and almost secret, hidden, glowing light that one needs to seek for."
"A poetical metaphor of the flamboyance of their fast and furious performance when they battle. They burn fast."
"They change the city they live in by their secret existence. It's very paradoxical – a grey area of understanding that makes the world real."
Nauczyciel recalls his favorite memory from the time he spent in Baltimore:
I remember a shooting in the streets of Baltimore with Marquis Revlon and Kory Goose Revlon. Instead of having vogue music in the car I put some classical to surprise the police if they came, because we would inevitably have been asked to leave the place right away. I asked Marquis and Kory if they would vogue on classical, half joking and half challenging Marquis, who said he would vogue on any beat. Next thing I remember, is the whole Revlon house trying to perform on Bach Baroque interpretations for the first time at Eubie Blake Centre — 30 voguers fighting against a very intense Baroque beat. That was beautiful, inspiring, and led me to embrace Baroque as a metaphor of voguing from my european — and French — point of view.
The portraits are now on display through May 18 at the Julie Meneret Contemporary Art gallery in New York City.