"Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss! Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity! Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!"
– Allen Ginsberg, Footnote to Howl.
Magnus Arrevad's work shares a soul with the Beatniks. His photography is urban poetry, bringing out truths far more important than mere facts. Like the Beats, his subjects tend to be outsiders. His choice of naturally emotive scenes, from male burlesque performance to street protest, no doubt plays a role in the immediate thrill and intensity of his work. And the work is intense. But this is the least important of the qualities that recommend it. What defines his work is its honesty, and not in any banal or dry way.
In Joe Black, the finest of his portraits, the subject is removed from the world – shot against a uniform black background, in garb that recalls Klaus Nomi, with a cigarette up each nostril, Black appears a grand, alien, theatrical entity. But on closer examination, something in the crinkling of his eyes tells an opposite story: his gaze is strained rather than magisterial, even a trifle haunted. Perhaps the angle of the mouth also contributes. One way or another, Arrevad managed to catch a brief flicker of vulnerability.
Arrevad's images have a way of capturing not just the physicality of their subjects, but the highly personal energy that burns inside them. His pictures are not trickery, not exploitative and are grand because they are natural: the work is affecting because it is not affected. The sensitivity required to achieve this cannot be overstated, particularly where so many of those he shoots would appear as caricature in the hands of a lesser talent. His style does not draw attention to itself – this is as it should be. Yet it is instantly recognisable.
The comparisons with Robert Frank are obvious, but the more appropriate ancestor would be the poet Allen Ginsberg. Like Ginsberg, there is an all-pervasive joy and empathy. The work engages. It brings its subjects to life, rather than capturing them as an anthropologist might pin butterflies. And like all great art, it reaches towards the transcendental, a sense that eludes words or technical description, that manifests itself behind the eyes and in the depths of the soul.