I first met queer photographer Mickey Aloisio when he was touring across America as part of a project he called “American Wildlife.” We were Instagram friends, and he messaged me saying he was driving across country photographing gay men. He asked if he could stay at my house in L.A. I wouldn’t usually say yes to this kind of thing, but I was fascinated by Aloisio’s work — the idea of a guy just getting in his car with barely enough money, no idea where he would stay or who he would photograph, and just driving from his home in Queens, New York, across the United States.
More recently Mickey Aloisio and I were both in Berlin. He was traveling Europe working on a second collection of queer photography, this one called “From Europe, With Love.”
I took the opportunity to meet him at Südbloc, a queer bar-café in Kreuzberg, to discuss the new European project.
HORNET: How did the Idea to travel around America and then Europe photographing guys come about?
MICKEY ALOISIO: I first got the idea to travel across the country shortly after my senior show at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in 2016. People responded really well to the work, and so I wanted to keep the project going and try to expand on what I’d been making. I also wanted to really challenge myself. When I came up with the idea of a road trip I was unsure whether or not I would be able to find models to participate in what I was doing. I didn’t know many people outside of the East Coast.
I think most children growing up in America have fantasized about two romantic adventures: The great “American road trip,” and backpacking through Europe. I was definitely one of those kids.
I saw this project as a way to provide meaning to a trip like that; something to give me purpose. I also think that creating artwork in this way, so delicate and trusting, is a great way to meet friends and create meaningful relationships.
So I saved up every dime I could and decided to see what I could do, who I could meet and where I’d wind up, all during September, October and November 2016. And then the Europe trip was about a year and a half or so later, given that same motivation, checking that next trip off the list from my childhood fantasies.
Most of your models, and the places you stayed while traveling, were chosen while you were on the road. You literally relied on the kindness of strangers for shelter — and for subjects. How did that work?
Honestly, I relied a lot on gay apps and social media, like Facebook and Instagram. Here’s a quick, funny story, because you and I met on Instagram, and it shows how these chance encounters can really pay off.
So much of this project is a team effort. I really count on the people I meet to introduce me to other friends of theirs, recommendations for places to go, et cetera. When I was in Berlin it was actually you who introduced me to a friend of yours who worked at the Schwules Museum [the city’s gay museum]. You told him what I was doing and the next thing I know he offered me the museum for a photo shoot during one of their off days.
It was really nice to be in this city I’ve never been to before, running naked through the halls of a museum with Marius, my model for the day.
So much of this project came about due to the help of total strangers offering me help, or a place to sleep or to shoot my work, or to be willing to be models for a day.
In your photos you use ‘regular guys.’ You aren’t out there trying to sell the ‘furriest muscle bears’ or the ‘sexiest guys with abs.’ What’s behind choosing the guys you feature?
I always tend to photograph bigger, chubbier, less traditional men. These are the guys I’ve always found myself attracted to. There isn’t a lot of representation of this aspect of the gay community within media, the art world or the community itself.
For me, the work has a lot to do with desire and the dynamics of desire — who and what we are attracted to — as a society or as an individual. I think the work also addresses issues of body stigma within the gay community as well as body-positivity.
The men I photograph are often not in the mainstream of queer physical beauty, but I think that’s changing.
What do you see as the main differences between the two collections, “American Wildlife” and “From Europe, With Love”?
I think the main differences are conceptual. The work has changed in overall ideology while still maintaining characteristics aesthetically. I like to think of them as different chapters in an overall body of work composed of separate trips, or periods of time.
I think during the USA project I was much more focused on traditional portraiture, and I think in my European work I am focusing less on tradition of representation and instead creating these false realities between myself and the subject.
The new work has a very heavy concentration on self-portraiture — speaking about one’s own identity and how I fit in with others, how we perceive and acknowledge one another and ourselves.
Head here for more work by Mickey Aloisio (some of it NSFW)
All photos courtesy of Mickey Aloisio