Meet Antonio Eugenio, the Belgian-born and raised photographer taking London by storm. With his latest exhibition, “Raw,” he’s exploring the new codes of beauty, vulnerability and identity perpetuated by the increasingly diverse men’s fashion industry – and the city of London. Throughout this series of portraits, which can be viewed throughout the floors of the hotel Leman Locke in East London, his lens captures the true honesty from a wide range of boys, all appearing shirtless and upfront. After his first-ever solo exhibit, we met up with the London-based creative to talk about the inspiration behind the exhibit, his thoughts of male vulnerability and these so-called new codes of beauty.
COOLS: What inspired you to create this series of portraits?
Antonio Eugenio: For a while now, I’ve wanted to work on the topic of diversity, and how that influences the new codes of beauty in the male fashion industry. As you can imagine, it’s been a long process to get this body of work and to make this exhibition happen; I started this project 18 months ago.
Currently, there’s a lot of talk about diversity in the industry, but mainly from a feminine point of view. I wanted to give my point of view on the topic – from the male perspective. First of all, it was important for me to show how the diversity here in London is amazing – it’s so beautiful and inspiring. If only more people in the world could see with Londoners’ eyes – If only the rest of UK could see with Londoners’ eyes – we might not be in a middle of this Brexit.
But I appreciate how we can use fashion and photography as a platform for political voice. Secondly, I wanted to show throughout a series of portraits how the fashion industry has changed its vision of male beauty – and how they’ve been inspired by the real diversity of our city. More and more, brands are going in this direction, and I hope it will encourage the ones still shy on embracing diversity to follow suite. Also, while working on this body of work, I was really glad to see how more model agencies in London have started to offer a wider range of diversity amongst their guys.
COOLS: How did the male body become a subject of interest to you?
Antonio Eugenio: When I first started photography, I was taking pictures of girls and guys, but I received feedback from my mentors, and from my friends, that my vision for the male form was really different, and much stronger than my work with women. I didn’t realize that straightaway but it makes total sense; there’s something in me that came pretty naturally, and realizing that that is when I decided to focus on photographing men and men’s fashion.
COOLS: Would you say diversity has become increasingly important in the London fashion scene?
Antonio Eugenio: Yes, after the recent season of men’s shows, I think we can definitely say that most of the brands here are really working toward having a more diverse casting; that’s a great sign for the industry. Some “niche” model agencies are doing well with offering a more diverse portfolio of men and women, but I’d love to see more agencies following the example of agencies, like Nii, who have really worked hard to have a diverse group of models. I think they understood what these new codes of beauty in the industry really are, and I think it’s important that billboards in the streets, or ads in magazines, do not continue to represent only one kind of beauty – but all beauties.
COOLS: In your portraits, there’s a real sense of diversity, male beauty and vulnerability.
Antonio Eugenio: Diversity is what really wanted to approach throughout “Raw,” while male beauty is just one of the main topics in my work. I’d say that sense of vulnerability comes from how my pictures are perceived; I think people understand that I try to catch something honest in each photo – something unartificial.
COOLS: What do you think sparked your exploration into diversity and vulnerability?
Antonio Eugenio: When I was a kid at school, I was in a class full of kids from different origins. I’m myself from an Italian family but born and raised in Belgium; however, even now, some people still don’t get over it, or passed those different origins. We are in 2018, and we are talking about Brexit in the U.K. and closing boundaries in the U.S. The human being itself has always been nomadic; we are all from the same earth, and it’s time to see outside of these self-imposed boundaries of our own country. When I first came to London, I was amazed to realize that being different wasn’t only tolerated, but respected, celebrated and embraced; that’s really when the idea for this project first came to me.
How’d you become partnered with Leman Locke, the hotel currently hosting your exhibit?
A long story short: When I was looking for a venue to host this body of work, I remembered I had met one of the organizers of Leman Locke at an event; I immediately liked the architecture of the hotel and its singular style. Then they told me that they’re always looking to collaborate with artists, and after a meeting we set up everything.
It’s great to have this specific body of work displayed in a lifestyle hotel such as Leman Locke not only because the hotel is really gorgeous, but also because the hotel is a place where people are coming from all corners of the world. During their stay, they’ll have the opportunity to explore what diversity means in London – whether through my portraits on the walls of the hotel or in the streets of London. It’s really been great working with them!
COOLS: What were you most excited about when creating “Raw,” and since the exhibit?
Antonio Eugenio: Honestly, meeting all the guys who took part in the project has been some of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had; during our shoots, I was able to chat with them and hear each of their own distinctive stories. But also, since the opening, I have received such positive feedback; I couldn’t be happier.
COOLS: How did you discover the men who sat for you?
Antonio Eugenio: It varies. Some were guys I’ve noticed on Instagram –mainly creatives – and the rest were models from agencies around London.
COOLS: Was there a particular message you wanted to convey through this project?
Antonio Eugenio: I really wanted to show the different faces of London and to say to people, “Look how beautiful the diversity is here in London. We all are living together with respect for each other, their origins and their own cultures.”
COOLS: Each portrait feels highly personal and, well, raw. How’d you go about capturing that emotion?
Antonio Eugenio: I really wanted to portray these guys in the most honest way possible. I didn’t want to make any references to time or fashion; that’s why the guys are shirtless. The most important think was to catch an expression on their face – something really natural that would question the viewer. At the photo shoot, we simply chatted a while together, but really I was trying to ask them particularly private questions in order to get that look of vulnerability that you see on their faces.
COOLS: How do you think masculinity has been represented in the fashion industry?
Antonio Eugenio: In the industry, masculinity is still represented in a very cliché way – in strength, in manhood. Only a few brands dare to show different perceptions of masculinity: I think of Palomo Spain, who really is one of the few to represent masculinity in a more vulnerable way that’s both very sophisticated and effeminate. I’m so glad to see that kind of representation in the industry, and I hope we will soon be seeing more of that side of masculinity in our magazines.
COOLS: So how would you describe these “new codes of beauty” in the fashion industry?
Antonio Eugenio: I’m convinced that people feel the need to identify themselves with the guys they see in advertisements and in magazines; this new code of beauty I like to reference occurs whenever we find someone more approachable – or closer to who we are but still with a singular face – appearing within these spaces.
COOLS: Finally, are you currently working on any new projects?
Antonio Eugenio: Well, I just got back from Milan for men’s fashion week there, where I documented backstage for several fashion shows, and I can definitely say that diversity on the rise to becoming more represented on the catwalks.