ryker allen’s dreamy portraits of boys he’s dated

The 20-year-old photographer discusses growing up in Texas, falling for one of his models, and supporting emerging queer zines.
The photograph Ryker Allen considers a turning point is of a boy he invited over to his studio. He's wearing mustard yellow shorts and is bathed in a brilliant gold light. "When he showed up I was basically enchanted by his presence and so attracted to him," the now-20-year-old photographer remembers. "I was captivated. I ended up dating that boy after I shot him, but I have no recollection of how I took any of those photographs because I was so focused on him. From then on I had to photograph boys that I was really attracted to or who acted as surrogates for previous boyfriends." Ryker intends his ongoing exploration of queer masculinity, the series "Boys," to age as he does. Ryker now lives in New York, working as a photographer and an associate producer for Hello Mr. magazine, which he is now helping expand into an incubator for smaller queer zines. He recently went back to his childhood home of San Antonio to reconnect with the high school life he left behind. While Texas isn't exactly the best place for queer people to live right now, the sense of isolation he felt as a 14-year-old was something he needed to remember. "In New York, everyone's gay." Plus the sunlight in Texas is really incredible.
What was your introduction to queer art? I was 14 years old and living in San Antonio, Texas. I was in a Barnes & Noble bookstore and on the newsstand I saw this magazine, Hello Mr. I didn't look at it and think "That's a gay magazine," just that it was a really well designed cover. I opened it up saw there were queer people, like me, making work about queerness. I never put the two together. It was a really big eye-opener for me to see this publication talking about queer people. Since then all I've been focused on is queer art. Now I work for the magazine.
What was the first photo you took of a boy you dated? I started photography when I was 10 years old. My brother was an athlete when we were younger and we would travel around so he could compete. My parents were trying to get me to shut up so they bought me a camera. I touched every single button and watched as many YouTube tutorials as I possibly could. That slowly turned from still lives into portraiture. When I was in high school I worked as a wedding photographer and a senior portrait photographer. I've had a lot of difficulty talking about my emotions and my vulnerability but I realized that I say a lot in my photos. From then on I started trying to focus on my experience as a teenage queer person. That led to me photographing boys I was dating. I definitely took photos of high school boyfriends but I never considered them my subjects.
What reaction do you typically get when you ask boys to photograph them? There are three routes that I take. One is if I'm dating the boy. It usually comes with the territory that I'm going to have a camera with me and they're going to be photographed. But that way is pretty unique. The second route is finding boys on the internet, whether it's through my network of other young, queer people or other boys I've dated. Early on that was a little tough because I didn't really have a portfolio that represented what I was telling them I was working on. A lot of boys would be really hesitant or confused about what I was doing. Sometimes they would say, "But I don't look gay." Or, "I don't fit into this category," or, "I'm not a model." A lot of that stems from internalized homophobia. They don't feel like they are what queerness is. But everyone has their own experience as a queer person. The third route is through casting. As people start to really understand what my work is about, it has become a lot easier to reach out to people. I have enough work now that people get it.
How do you use fashion to challenge stereotypes about queer masculinity? Recently I have done a lot of fashion photography. This is a new concept for me in my photography and it's more me reaching out to stylists who I admire. I usually reach out to stylists who are queer in nature and don't really give a shit about binaries in clothing. When it comes to portraiture, a lot of it is based on Hal Fischer's Gay Semiotics. He photographed gay culture in 70s San Francisco and the way gay men dressed, whether it be a white handkerchief in the back pocket or a white tank top tucked into washed blue jeans or an earring on the right ear. I'm referencing these outfits to pay homage to the forefathers of queer photography, but also because my work already has a vintagey nature. Back in the 70s there was no internet gay men had to communicate their queerness through clothing.
It's a particularly uncertain time for LGBTQ people. What makes you optimistic for the future of young queer art and representation? I think a lot of young people, whether queer or not, are very concerned about their voices not being heard. What's happening politically right now probably affects my generation and the generation below it the most. Especially with the internet, young creatives can share work that can possibly get seen by millions of people. Everyone has their own queer experience, but you can get to see all these other queer experiences. There's a major growth in queer artists younger than 25. I get a lot of high school artists messaging me online and it reminds me of when I was 14 and looking at Hello Mr. It's cool seeing this all happen right now. Young people are angry and want to speak up.
Can you tell me about the Hello Mr. intern residency project? We created a magazine residency called The Issues, which provides mentorship and resources for new ideas specifically in queer publishing. Inside of every issue of Hello Mr. will be a new magazine. The first one is going to be Brunch Club, which is a queer magazine specifically focusing on inclusion within the LGBTQ community. Hello Mr. is not only its own publication but is becoming a launchpad for new publications for new magazines or zines that can later on become full-fledged independent publications. 
Check out Hello Mr.'s residency project on Kickstarter. Ryker is also auctioning two of his portraits in an emerging photographer's auction presented by Daniel Cooney Fine Art. 

Team Credits

Ryker Allen

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  • Photographer & Photo Editor, HelloMr
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