Lissa Rivera’s “Beautiful Boy” portraits revel in gender as a repertoire.—Stephen Vider, social and cultural historian
On the subway one evening, Lissa Rivera’s new friend BJ shared that throughout college he had almost exclusively worn women’s clothing. However, after taking a professional job, he felt much less free to explore gender. Lissa, having struggled through her own fraught relationship with the demands of proscribed femininity, suggested to BJ that perhaps photographs might help create a space for him to explore his identity outside isolation.
Lissa writes: “Taking the first pictures was an emotional experience. I connected with my friend’s vulnerability. I wanted to make sure that the images were not a compromise for either of us, and we engaged in many discussions.”
Eventually, Lissa and BJ found themselves falling in love. Now romantic partners, the two are collaborators who have sought to “perform and reshape gender individually and as a couple,” writes Stephen Vider. Rivera relishes the visual pleasure an intimate muse can inspire, as so many male artists have experienced historically.
“Beautiful Boy” investigates a visual language of femininity that is deeply embedded in the DNA of our cultural perceptions. Drawing from Lissa and BJ’s shared interests, the earliest photographs mine the history of 20th-century film, photography, and painting. However, as the project evolved, the images began to flood over boundaries of scripts and sets, and reveal individual experiences of gender, desire, and cultural taboo.