'I am young, beautiful and ready to be seen!'
'Vitalij is an incredibly fresh and exciting model to photograph. To be honest I didn't really do my homework before hand and got who he is wrong. When I arrived in the studio he was already there, in the dressing room and putting on make up. I introduced myself and then asked him was he modelling as a female? I think it kind of stumped him for he stared at me and said "no it is in between male and female".'
Life can be beautifully complicated. Just when you think you have your head around a concept or idea, another one arises to challenge and test the limits of thought and boundary. Thankfully there are individuals with the courage to stand in front, taking the brunt of criticism, confusion and hate until finally, the new becomes accepted and we have another way of looking at who we are as humans and how we relate to one another in relationship.
I had never really heard of androgynous modeling until discovering Serene Photography's images of Vitalij. Certainly I have seen images and personality who straddle the worlds of both men and women, masculine and feminine. Musicians like David Bowie, Grace Jones, Marilyn Manson, Freddie Mercury, Prince and even recent Oscar winner Jared Leto have all weaved aspects of masculine and feminine with their look and public personas.
20 year old Vitalij has wanted to be a model since he was a child. The Belfast model got a taste of being in front of the camera at just 16, and decided he would love to more in the future. Committed to his work, Vitalij is currently finishing a performance arts program and is involved in both acting, and the writing of his schools productions. the performance aspect plays a strong part with his work as a model. There is something both very modern, and equally retro about his look and images. With one glance at Mark's images, you may see a brief hint of Peter Berlin, with another a maybe a bit of a Britney vibe. His face, incredibly youthful, his poses, incredibly elegant and mature.
New to shooting the male form, Mark wasn't sure he would be the best one to shoot the 20 year model, especially with his limited understanding of androgynous modeling. He was intrigued however, with Vitalij's look and was looking for a model to practice model photography on. Someone with an understanding, or at least someone who might be patient with him as he fiddled around with the lights and camera settings. Vitalij didn't make any contact with Mark initially, but a couple of months ago he placed a casting. Model and photographer agreed to meet for a shoot in Townhouse Studios in Belfast.
'Northern Ireland is still quite a testosterone driven society with gay issues not given an understanding that it needs to give society the knowledge it needs to accept the reasons and needs of the gay and lesbian community. With Vitalij coming from Russia, he is not fully aware of society here and special of the tensions we have living in for over 40 years of terror and war. Though society is marginally better and accepting foreign people into the country where before none were prepared to live here because of the troubles.'
'I was initially confused as to how I was going to capture the essence of a young man with make up in a manner that depicted him as neither male of female. For me personally I love close up shots. If there is something you are attracted to or love, you will naturally take hold of the item and draw in closer to your eyes so that you can see every wee inch of it. So to get me relaxed and starting somewhere I started on a couple of headshots. Vitalij seemed nervous but he reciprocated with giving some beautiful images bringing his hands into focus to soften the presentation. As time passed, I could get a sense of what Vitalij was trying to achieve in the images. With the black cords and white t shirt being very male, he was trying to soften that look by posing in a way that a female would pose.' The combination of black clothes on his pale skin blond hair and white background give fresh youthful look.
'As the shoot progressed, so did Vitalij's confidence. Perhaps it was that confidence is what lead to the next level! He went into the dressing room and was away for about 8 minutes. I looked through the images and felt we had so far obtained images that will present him as a young fresh male and others that added the feminine positions into it that give just enough edge to know there is something else the model has in mind. When I heard Vitalij enter the room I looked up and saw a bare bottom heading to the screen. When he turned around he had a bunch of bananas in his hand. He politely asked if i could go into the changing room and bring in the pink chair which I did. For a while I watched him struggle to get the bananas to sit correctly. At one point, in almost despair tainted with humour, said in that soft Russian accent with a slight hint of camp, "my bananas are going to fall!!" It was hard to keep the face straight as I never thought at any time in my life would I be faced with with a guy sitting naked in a pink chair, bananas covering his private area and pleading for me to help position them!'
'Though Vitalij had props of his own at times he needed a bit of refining to create more energy into the image. The guitar was already in the dressing room and so he had not pre thought it out. The rest of the shoot was fairly standard. We found a hat in the studio and played around with covering himself with it through to full naked on the ground which, I feel for me produced the best images of Vitalij of the day. As he sat on the ground he with both legs slightly bent I asked him to straighten to back leg and bent the near one. When he done this he placed his elbow over the knee and his hand on his head. I almost shouted at him not to move. And the image was shot. The body lines are beautiful and youthful. His expression is innocent, and almost vulnerable and there is just a beautiful contrast with him against the black backdrop.'
'I never started taking photographs ever thinking I would be in a studio with someone like Vitalij. I started out photographing old churches and castles in Northern Ireland. To say Vitalij was both challenging and exciting is an understatement. Perhaps I have not capture him in a manner that others could have. Perhaps there was a massive opportunity missed. I have no official training in photography and am self taught. Last year I decided to add my love for fitness and bodybuilding into photography and so started to ask guys in the gym if I could photograph them. That lead to the model mayhem portfolio and to eventually finding Townhouse studios in Belfast where I am now seeking to learn light set ups. All in all the learning curve over the past 5 years has been immense, but it is so rewarding.'