In the photography book Bodybuilders, London and Milan-based artist Alien celebrates the malleability of the human form through her portraits of UK club kids and queers in drag. Flip through its pages and you’ll find a green reptilian face topped with a cowboy hat and ram horns, an elongated, bulbous body formed out of blue plastic, eyes transformed into black pools, backs curved into humps through flesh-toned bodysuits.
Bodybuilders: a celebration of drag artists
The book is, as its title suggests, a showcase of talented bodybuilders; but here the personalities involved transform their physical form through rigorous artistry rather than athletics. Prosthetics, make-up, and clothing make the human body as pliable as clay, capable of whatever contortions the imagination can manufacture.
As Helen Hester, professor of Gender, Technology and Cultural Politics at the University of West London, writes in the book’s introduction: ‘Each person photographed here has to some extent built themselves, channelling not only personal aesthetics, cultural reference points, and intellectual ideas but also unconscious forces – the unknowable within us that necessarily finds expression in all our words, actions, thoughts and behaviours.’
For Alien, the project was a way of introducing these creatives to an audience outside of the internet. ‘Bodybuilders was created as a way to share collective memories in a tangible and lasting way,’ says Alien. ‘I have always been interested in photographers who have the ability to capture a moment of time, a group of people or a subculture and document them in a way that is not scientific but rather personal and emotional.
‘The project was born from the desire to pay homage [to] and stop in time a community of creatives that belongs to a scene considered niche, because it is alternative and because it is queer. Most of these kids in the community get noticed through social media, too fast and volatile sometimes. I felt the desire, and maybe a little bit the need, to photograph and represent them on a physical format, like film and the printed form, a medium that has the power to stay regardless of the algorithm, being able to travel in time and space and cross path with insiders and outsiders of the community, like it used to be: perhaps by entering a bookshop and by chance find out about it.’