Photographer Ryker Allen picked up his first camera at the age of 10. “I touched every button and turned every knob and tried to learn as much as possible on my own — that led me to understanding the fundamentals of photography,” he told Out In SA. A former student at San Antonio’s North East School of the Arts, Allen made the move to New York City in 2015 and is currently working toward a BFA in photography and video from the School of Visual Arts while contributing to the biannual queer magazine Hello Mr. At the age of 20, Allen has exhibited work worldwide (including a recent exhibition in Paris) and has been published in the pages of Out, Nylon Japan and Vice. We recently spoke with the rising young photographer about his work and newfound life in the Big Apple.
On His Work Being Autobiographical
“I mainly photograph boys that I’m attracted to and boys that I’ve dated. A lot of my work is an exploration of myself, actually, rather than the boys in the photos — it’s definitely autobiographical. For a good portion of my life, I’ve struggled discussing my emotions, especially coming from the South, where masculinity and the whole ‘boys don’t cry’ idea is heavily pushed. I didn’t really understand how to speak my emotions so I did that through my visuals. I focus on masculinity because it’s something I question within myself. There is a whole lot of idealism in the gay world with the ‘perfect boy’ and the ‘perfect body’ and I’ve never connected with any of that. I’ve found it important to discuss that in my work.”
On Analog Versus Digital Photography
“A lot of people refer to my work as vintage but that’s not very purposeful. I just happen to shoot on film. I don’t even own a digital camera — everything I shoot is analog. So a lot of people look at it and say ‘Oh, you’re making this look vintage-y,’ but in reality, I’m just shooting on cameras from the ’60s. In a way it’s purposeful, but also I can’t really avoid it because I’m shooting on film. I have no interest in working with digital photography. Film photography slows you down — it forces you to really spend some time with yourself and your camera. Because it’s expensive, you have to really take in every single aspect of the shot and try to understand everything you’re creating in that image. So it forces me to really consider everything that I’m doing rather than just pressing a button and shooting a thousand photos. I only have about 16 photos per roll and after I’m done with that roll, I can’t change anything. It’s a lot more like painting when you work with film compared to digital, where you do all the painting later.”
On His Job at Hello Mr.
“We’re one of the few independent queer magazines, so we’ve kind of shaped the landscape for other queer magazines to come along that are independent. We try to stay away from the whole flashy gay magazine vibe and try to stick to something that is a bit more realistic and less stereotypical. Hello Mr. was actually my first interaction with queer art. I had no idea that queer people were making art about their queerness until I saw an issue of Hello Mr. on a bookshelf at Barnes & Noble. I picked it up — and four years later I work for the magazine. Hello Mr. was my introduction to queer photography. I would not have been where I am today without the magazine.”
On Moving to New York City
“I came to New York thinking that it was going to take a really long time as far as having a show and being recognized for my work. It just happened very quickly for me after I moved to New York — I mean, after a lot of really hard work — but I wasn’t expecting anything to happen so quickly. I thought I would have a lot more time to really prepare my work and get to where I was happy with it; but I’m taking on as many projects as I possibly can, and working with as many people as I possibly can, and bringing on a lot more collaborators.”
On His Exes Living in Texas
“After living in New York for a while and being in a much more openly queer culture, I kind of forgot about my past and what it was like to live in a suburb and to be young and gay and alone. It was really important for me to return to Texas and photograph the boys that I left behind; and to see the changes that I’ve experienced and see the changes that they made.”
On Dating a Photographer
“When you date a photographer, you kind of have to know that you’re going to get shot all the time. I always have a camera with me when I’m on a date, or even when I’m hooking up with someone. All of my previous boyfriends — I maintain a positive relationship with everybody — they all know that their photos might get published or be in a show. It kind of comes with the terrain. I always tell them ‘Look, I’m a photographer. This is what I shoot and if you’re not comfortable with it … this won’t work out — because I have to shoot you.’’’