The Pictures That Defined Me: Paula Winkler

Male centrefolds, drag queens and crossdressers are the subjects Paula Winkler tends towards in her photographs: subjects we are not used to seeing in the mainstream, at least, not like this.

In her worldpeace series she shows us the hyperbolic faces of beauty queens, contorted with emotion, while in her Exceptional Encounters, we meet the male nude through a non-heteronormative gaze.

As part of our current Beyond Gender issue, celebrating fifty years since homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK and heralding a new era for looking at bodies, sexuality and identity in art, we invited the German artist to discuss the images from her own archive that have defined her practice, alongside photographs by other artists that still inspire her today.

Encounter #37

This is my favourite image from my work Exceptional Encounters. I met this guy through an online sex dating site and asked him if I could photograph him naked in a hotel room for my then current project. I just love the way he fills the space so properly, like a king. And what I love even more is the way he has shaved his pubic hair in accidental correspondence, forming a crown.

Encounter #37, Paula Winkler

Centerfold #3

For this work, I engaged with the classical genre of male nude photography. It was through this work that I became aware of the fact that the vast majority of male nudes in photography are created by gay men, reflecting their desires. By doing this work, I was responding to the long now well-established gay history of the male nude.

Centerfold #3, Paula Winkler

Tima Reclining

Tima is a drag queen who I have been photographing for a while now. We meet irregularly to take pictures. This image of her is one of my favourites because it makes me feel that I know what she’s dreaming of, which of course I don’t. But it creates space for my projections–something images are just perfect for…

Tima Reclining, Paula Winkler


This Miss America contest winner is just about to be crowned. I collect images online and combine them into an army of crying beauty contest winners which I display larger than life-sized. I absolutely love the ambiguity of their emotions which seem to be somewhere between staged and authentic. For me, these images also speak of our current times.

worldpeace, Paula Winkler

untitled (self)

This is what I would look like as a beauty contest winner.

untitled (self), Paula Winkler

Isabelle Wenzel, Triple 1

What I just love about the work of Isabelle Wenzel is her playful and humorous approach towards her images. Working with herself as a subject, she creates intriguing sculptures of the female form incorporating elements of acrobatics and performance. To me, her work is an appropriation of the female figure that has been traditionally serving the male gaze and fantasies for centuries. I just find lots of pleasure in looking at her images.

Isabelle Wenzel, Triple 1, 130 x 100cm

Lotte Reimann, Brother and me from an unfinished/ongoing series of 2013, Brothers

Lotte Reimann follows a conceptual approach in her work. Her topics often deal with the role of photography within certain areas of sexual fetishes. She likes to combine facts and fiction into her own stories, often working with self-written texts. This particular image shows her and her brother with whom she shares a close relationship. I just love where this image takes me in my imagination.

Lotte Reimann, “Brother and me”, from an unfinished / ongoing series of 2013, “Brothers”


Melanie Bonajo, Furniture Bondage: Anne

This image is taken from Melanie Bonajo’s work Furniture Bondage where she ties her female models to everyday things surrounding all of us at all times. While you can read her images as funny human sculptures you can also interpret them as allegories of the burden of domesticity, which has been linked to female existence throughout centuries. What I also really appreciate about Melanie Bonajo is the fact that she’s not withdrawing from talking about feminism.

Melanie Bonajo, Furniture Bondage: Anne, 2007, c-print framed, 156 x 120 cm, Courtesy the artist & AKINCI


Cindy Sherman, Untitled #408

What is there to say about the godmother of transformation? I could have chosen any image by Cindy Sherman. Her work just speaks directly to my heart. Talking about surfaces, identity, assumptions, roles, cracks, beauty and of course within all these topics, gender. There is a certain aggressiveness that comes with the balancing of attracting and rejecting at the same time. Her images are a gift to the photographic world.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #408, 2002 Color photograph 137,2 x 91,4 cm 54 x 36 inches © Cindy Sherman Courtesy of the artist, Metro Pictures and Sprüth Magers


Pierre Molinier

I’m very much drawn to the surreal fetish images by painter and photographer Pierre Moliniere. Most of his images and collages depict himself as a woman. When I look at his images I feel like I’m looking at a secret bond between him and his camera, as if the camera is his only companion in living out his fantasies. I love to be dragged into his black and white world of stockings, dildos and masks.

Pierre MOLINIER 1900-1976 Autoportrait [Self-portrait], 1960 c Vintage silver gelatin print 16.8 x 11.5 cm Copyright the Estate of the Artist. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery