unedited interview with fisheye magazine

the feature with fisheye magazine can be found here

below you can read the original, unedited interview with lou tsatsas. 

lou: Could you briefly introduce yourself? 

bilhan: hey, it’s 23:08 in Berlin and I’m writing this on a big computer screen. My name is joshua, family name is anderson but I gave myself the name bilhan [ biL-en ] and I now practice my artwork under that name: j. bilhan. I am a human boy doing various things that usually manifest as artworks, I like making stuff and using my hands. I crave physical labor and sweat, so I’ve been going to the gym. I worked as a construction labor boy once and that was cruel. I’ve recently been pondering becoming a chef. I was born in texas, moved to Los Angeles when I was 19, moved to Berlin when I was 22 and I will return to houston as a 23-year-old at the end of February.

L: How did you get into photography? 

B: Interesting question. The earliest I can remember having my hands on a camera was at age 11, my sister had this silver point and shoot that I would take from her room and use for various things. Instagram launched around that time, and I was very ignorant to the world of photography at that age. I just went with it, copied what I saw on instagram until my eyes began to open. I don’t consider myself as just ‘photographer’, making photographs is one outlet of many and perhaps the most practical. Recently I bought a mamiya 645 pro, an old 80’S machine, and it’s working fine. I am able to capture a realm of information I had not thought possible, its pretty tricky to use but as with all things, practice and time are necessary. film images have this romantic essence, something tangible as if one is forever present in the moment of capture. 

My dad is an architect, naturally, I was introduced too much of the creative world by him. I have never had a particular influence from art history, I deeply enjoy art, and of course, I may share traits and ideas with others because what is truly original? so the short answer is I got into photography because my parents allowed me creative freedom, I was homeschooled, and photo was another way to explore my visual language. 

L: How would you describe your photographic approach?

B: the approach changes, but I typically begin with a meeting. I must get to know my subjects. It is difficult for me to make photographs when there is no heart or mind connection between the party. I have made commercial photographs in the past, as we do, and without a proper bond, I was left feeling bothered by that work. My approach is not yet understood and constantly developing. I should say, this is specific to that which involves other people and has planned times and dates; otherwise, I often carry a camera around and just make snapshots. Those are two different approaches. When planning and the scene is pre-meditated, I must have a personal and intimate bond with the subjects otherwise the whole thing will suffer. Perhaps that is linked to my insecurities, I can be a shy boy sometimes, you know? When I feel vulnerable, which nearly coincides with creating. 

L: You seem to focus on the human body, and its sensuality in your work, why is that? 

B: Good question. Look around us, look at nature, and then look to what humans have created? our industries and globalized society. Why the disparity between nature and ‘us’? Why do we hide behind clothes and put ourselves in tall concrete buildings? It is a curious thing, to see the human experience in that way. As if we do not belong to nature, or so we would like to believe. you see the body in my work and it is about returning the body to nature, to see it in this vulnerable and primitive state. The normalization of it, or how it is no reason to be ‘shocked’. Also, I am a nudist, through and through. swimming in cool velvety water and giving myself to the earth, eating fruit on the shore, blades of broken grass stuck to the skin. that is ecstasy for me, pure bliss. That is the reason for it, to create a world that exists in that place. The sensuality…I am not sure why I am drawn to sexuality in this way. Sexuality is communication, animals interacting, don’t you think? I love sex. fetishes, kinks, whatever..perhaps it’s not all that philosophical.

L: Your models all have different shapes, sizes etc. Is the diversity of people an important topic for you? Who are they, and how do you get them to feel comfortable in those positions?

B: diversity of bodies, in media, is important to me. this comes to mind: I see a local woman from Sierra Leon on the news, she’s incredibly beautiful, dark cacao skin like butter, and her teeth are very crooked. I thought “what differs this woman from the women who walk on runways? Nothing other than the teeth, fashion would not take her teeth”. I could be wrong, but I am likely not. I think consumerism and the standards of beauty are linked, companies are selling ideas of beauty to mentally vulnerable people who hate themselves for falling short of that ideal. This is why we need diversity in media, so those people understand that they too are good. Aside from that, I am a 23-year-old boy whose attractions often include “old” or “fat” guys [as some have called them, I just see humans]. the idea of a boy and a man three times his age being in love makes some people uncomfortable so they add labels and try to confine it into boxes, attempting to control it. This is silly. I make my work about normal people, the guy you see on the train, or the man who comes over to repair your toilet. People, because we are all worthy of love and admiration. I can admit, there are people on the planet who have striking beauty, supermodels or whatever. Striking beauty is not only found in a supermodel. I can, have and likely will again make images of conventionally beautiful humans, but this is not necessarily for me. I seek something else, maybe it is an understated beauty, subtle. 

The topic of who they are and how do I make them comfortable? well, the comfort does not come easy, this takes genuine and honest communication, one can hide nothing [duh] when being photographed nude. when the person in front of my camera is nude, I am usually nude as well. This is an equalizer, my friend francesco told me to do that, it works. Who are they…humans. interesting and multifaceted people, like every single one of them on the planet. I always begin with a conversation, I learn from the experience, ever time. I hope the photo session leaves a lasting impression on the subject, maybe, maybe not. I give my self to them and they to me, an exchange. Sometimes a bit more than photograph making happens, sometimes not. There is no rule book, but communication and vulnerability are of utmost importance.

L: I read that you identify as queer, how does it influence your work? 

B: Not sure, perhaps my interest, the nudity, my voyeuristic inclination to want to see anyone naked. rather than be identified by queerness, I should identify what being queer means for me. I am human and every other human around me is just like me, we are conscious and alive, we eat, sleep, shit, explore and communicate, verbally or physically. In my eye, queer is someone who is not boxed into a particular way of being. I am not necessarily “gay” and I’m definitely not “straight”. I don’t believe any of us are, those are just ideas. I have a lot of love and curiosity, there are few greater moments in life then meeting someone else who has this meshing with the soul, you know? Like best friend feelings. We’re all just kids running around doing stuff, some have more experience than others but basically we’re all the same. if we allow them to, ideas can change and define us. So, that is what queer means to me. My work is influenced by that point of view, and by my view of beauty in the last question. my work is for everyone who cares to look. My desire is to bring people together, share bonds and intimacy, I dream of nude group experiences that are not orgies, you know? togetherness is a word I like, feels good. Togetherness. Us. We. 

i was attempting to sleep and a thought spoke to me, I then shot up out of bed to write it down. The thought said: the purpose of your art is not to impress or create sensation, the purpose of your work is to present something to your culture, to invest into your tribe. That is the value and the worth. when I create something that invests into my culture. The photographs, who primarily focus on diversity in people, even the work I have yet to make, those photographs contribute to my culture. i am sharing something not only for myself but for others to discover and reflect on in their journey through life because it is something that they can relate to. to help validate their self-worth. To pay respect to non-typical sexuality [queerness or old age], or bodies of different sizes. for those who see past these superficial elements and aim for humanness. I think back to myself as a boy, who was so lost and searching for someone to relate to, somewhere in the world. I did not think like my family, so I looked outside, but I didn’t find anything like me in the world. I kept searching. I’ve begun to discover people who see sexually the way I do, as a fundamental human act, communication, empathy, sacred sex. I am building on, exploring and expanding that realm. For the ones who come after me, so they have a reference point, a culture, to ease them along their way.

L: Could you tell me more about the picture I attached to the interview? Who are the two models? There seems to be a big age difference between the two of them (one may even be a teenager?) I was wondering if this picture was meant to shock/provoke? 

B: Alain and Lin is one of my favourite photographs I’ve ever made to date. it was deleted from instagram 4 times, I may have to blur the pubic hair. No, I did not intend to provoke but I am fully aware of the effects of nudity or age gaps. No, this is not porn. No, I am not advocating pedophilia. so, I am sitting outside at a square in Antwerp with my friend, we are eating fries, It’s lgbt pride week and the city is bubbly and alive, queers all around. I spot them walking by, slowly, side-by-side and I instinctively knew. immediately I set down my fries and run toward them, when I arrived to them I excused myself and ask them “you may think I’m crazy, but would be open to making nude photographs?”. Something along those lines. They smile, cool as fuck, calm, and they agreed. We met two weeks later and this photograph was the product. They are a real couple. The younger of the two is in his 20s, his partner in the 60s. One of them has been nude for spencer tunick a couple times. Gorgeous and warm people, so inviting, so sweet. We had dinner that night and it was farewell. This image surprised me, it was made on film so I waited for the results. This kick-started my desire to continue making images about sexuality, seeking the sublime, seeking beauty, seeking tenderness. So that is where I am for now.

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