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A Gendered Showcase

Cecilie Harris is the Norwegian editor of Boys by Girls magazine. We asked fellow photographer Rebecca Hawkes to meet her in London, the creative heart of the magazine. Despite having found her beat in an adopted country, the editor can still miss the honesty of home.

Growing up she met with the sea each morning. The breakfast routine was accompanied by an ever-present horizon. Seen from the kitchen window and silent as the porridge was made, the coffee brewed, it didn’t go unnoticed. Although tides change, and time moves on, that horizon is still one of the influences Cecilie Harris sites on impacting her photography. It shows up in the clean lines, in the negative space and the stillness she captures. The male models in her pictures go on adventures and contemplate in equal measures.

Cecilie grew up next to the sea in Stavanger, and myself next to the Thames in London. While Cecilie saw the comings and goings of the tide, I watched as my father rowed along the river. As most stories go, romance sees a turn of events. As I fell in love and moved to Norway, Cecilie moved to my city of London.

Two photographers, two countries, two similar stories.

We meet on a grey rainy day in London. It is the beginning of November, and the wind blows and the sun keeps its distance from behind the clouds. I do not expect any more, nor any less, from a city famous for its gloomy skies. Although having met and worked with Cecilie before on her publication Boys by Girls magazine, I feel the nerves that only come from photographing another photographer. Upon arriving, Cecilie greets me with a small smile and my worries disperse.

As we settle next to the window of her local coffee shop in Battersea, Cecilie makes a gesture to the chalkboard sign outside. It proudly reads that for three years they have been voted best place for coffee in London, a fitting place to start.

How are you and how is the new issue of the magazine? I ask, as though the two questions are intertwined with the same answer.

She loosens the coat from her shoulders, and with a relaxed breath she tells me that the magazine has gone to the printers and that it will be in stores in only a couple of days. She has already seen a test print of what will the 9th issue of the magazine, and she is happy with the result. I know that sigh of relief; it is one that only comes after the complete effort to put new work into the world. Making a magazine is almost like making magic.

With this as our starting point, we leap into discussing how the idea for a magazine was sparked, and the process of producing the latest issue. Enduring nine issues as a niche publication is never easy, but Cecilie tells me how her years in IT, when first moving to London, both prepared her for the editorial role and taught her the skills she needed to know.

– London opened up so many possibilities for me. I met a boy and took the opportunity to move to a bigger city than my home town Stavanger, which opened up so many opportunities and exciting work options for me.

I nod in agreement, although for me moving to a smaller community has allowed my career and creative aspirations to grow. I would rather be a big fish in a small pond.

Cecilie continues to explain.

– It wasn’t until I had grown a creative community outside of my IT job that I started to think that living life as a photographer was possible. I had always taken pictures, as had a lot of my family, but I got my start upon a commission when I started working with a music producer and singer. It was fun, and I soon started photographing more musicians. They were happy with my images and I became more and more fascinated. It was from here that I moved into photographing models and the world of stylists and make-up-artists.

Focusing on male models, she found them to be more fascinating to work because it is more of a challenge.

– Without the hair, make up and often elaborate wardrobe, you have to do more with less.

Holding our hands tightly around our mugs, from time to time we look towards the wrapped up people walking by in scarves, hats and the occasional umbrella. There is no end to the inspiration to be found in this city. It is the city I grew up in, but now it seems like more of a stranger to me, but a source of creative community to Cecilie. We talk about people watching, and the international melting pot that the city offers.

I see the English as more eccentric than the Norwegians, but from Cecilie’s perspective we – the English – can be more conservative. Cecilie sights the impact of creating within a space that is so diverse, as a liberation to go out and tell your own story. She sees that stereotypes are changing, the open gay community has allowed a lot more people to openly create and be up front about their sexuality. But she also sees that a little of the “old world” exists and that stereotypes are there to be challenged. Her magazine acts as a platform for these beliefs and Cecilie aims to send the message that you can “love whoever you want to love”.

Throughout our coffee break I cannot help but be reminded of our similarities and our somewhat parallel but divergent lives. The magazine is just one of them. Myself, a lover of the printed page from the time I could draw and add page numbers to a stack of paper, leaving allowances for the pages that would be fictitious adverts; I now specialise in designing fashion editorials and photographing portraits. Cecilie, on the other-hand, harnessed the potential for her magazine after search for an outlet for photography.

Boys by Girls magazine started its life as a book. A series of photographs that captured young men being just that – young men, not pin-ups and not hedonist icons. With all things the idea snowballed, and finding its niche in the market the idea has grown into 9 issues. One of which, lead our paths to cross and a collaboration was formed between myself (designer) and Cecilie (editor).

I ask Cecilie if she still has many connections with Norway, or if there is much of a community of Norwegians in London.

– I always try to use Scandinavian models as much as I can in my work and my magazine. I actually had a few in for casting the other week, which was nice.

She talks about being proud of her culture and how she has been noticing more and more great magazines coming out of Norway. “It’s good,” she says, “I think we need it”. I nod in agreement, listing off on my fingers to compare notes on the beautiful publications released in recent years. She feels honoured to represent her home country from across the sea, and to be apart of this budding collective.

There are peculiar traits in all cultures and of course the British are no different. In a similar way to our American cousins, we have a penchant to introduce ourselves to our guest by asking “how are you?”. It sounds simple enough and yet the most common reply you will encounter within the uk (or perhaps the us) will be “fine, how are you?”. Simple and to the point, no matter how un-descriptive and pointless this interaction appears to other nationalities. Cecilie brings up this common reaction as we both laugh at how one simple question can illicit such different answers in our two cultures. Ask a Norwegian “how are you?” and be prepared to hear about their entire day, what is on their mind and really how they are, no matter how rough around the edges it may be. It is this honesty that is charming to Cecilie, and one she works towards in her photography.

– I think what I miss most from Norway, is the honesty of the Norwegian people. Honesty and being open about what ails us is part of our culture and our heritage.

Behind the camera, she aims to capture the authentic interaction she has with her models, as well as instilling the essence of their character.

In Cecilie’s work, it is not uncommon to find boys jumping over garden fences, sticking pin-ups to their walls or putting together an outfit most would assume would be for the opposite gender. She challenges what we assume male models should and shouldn’t do within an image. Instead she explores who these boys really are and the lives they lead. As a photographer she harnesses the potential of the still image, but as an editor of her publication Boys by Girls magazine, she has a platform to reach others.

Towards the end of our conversation, Cecilie catches herself, stops and says “yes that’s perfect”, allowing me to note down her quote just right. I repeat back to her, “the power I have as an editor is to showcase these boys, their freedom and who they really are, illustrating to my readers that they can be whoever they want to be”. We smile in unison, yes – that is the perfect way to end it.


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