Growing up in a very small town in the countryside of Denmark and attending a school with only 60 students, Glasgow-based photographer Birk Thomassen learned early on to immerse himself in his own universe. This is a skill Thomassen has taken with him into his photography, where he documents intimate moments of himself, friends and boyfriends. “While everyone else was developing an interest in partying, Smirnoff Ice and mopeds, I was busy playing Pocahontas or Harry Potter at home in the garden.” Birk says, recalling his experience of growing up, feeling like an outsider in a society of limited options. He still holds a fondness for a hometown that let him grow up in his own time, discovering his sexuality in the years after. “I am sure that I was in many ways a stereotypical gay kid, but one of the perks of growing up in the countryside was that I was blissfully unaware of this until later on,” Thomassen explains.
Through his distinct visual language and exploration of unexpected situations, he manages to avoid the clichés of naked young people shot with flash on a 35mm point and shoot camera. When asked about his inspirations, he mentions artists like Peaches with her hard-hitting attitude and sexually explicit lyrics, as well as Gregg Araki’s surreal stories of teenage serial killers getting abducted by aliens. This manifests itself in Thomassen’s own fantasy world of handsome, undressed guys juxtaposed with dreamlike shots of otherworldly nature and strange animals. The images deal with themes such as escapism, youth and intimacy in a way that the viewer is left mesmerized and oddly nostalgic.
There's a sensuality that plays out in his work, and a distinct, head-on approach to sexuality. “I realised that in order to maintain an interest in my own work, I had to focus on subjects that I am attracted to and care about personally,” he says. “Homoeroticism plays a big part in my photographs as a natural consequence of me being a gay man, but it is not necessarily something I actively seek to document.”
“When I was a teenager I struggled a lot with intimacy and physical contact. I was very concerned with my looks, and for many years I did not like to be looked at or touched. I grew a fringe the length of my face and wore countless layers of clothing. Whether or not those years were the catalyst for my later interest in the body and sexuality in general I do not know, but for sure the idea is appealing.”