Meet CARL OSTBERG, the photographer and floral artist behind the Boy Smells Pride campaign. This Vancouver based creative is telling stories through the cross pollination of two artforms. Chances are, you have come across his images in your Instagram feed and/or Pinterest boards. We chat with CARL about what Pride means to him, his inspirations, and how working with flowers helps him embrace his true nature.
our work is so unique and rich, how did you arrive at the intersection of disciplines, photograph + floral design?
In true Dame Nature fashion, there has been a lot of very organic growth. Floral design wasn’t something I ever set out to do; I was actually kind of tricked into it by a coworker. That’s not to say I wasn’t digging in the garden as a kid and designing gowns for barbies out of leaves. So I guess there was always this intersection of fashion, organic materials and beauty. Lucky for me those interests circled around and lined up nicely in my professional life. I feel like there is something to be said about connecting with what you loved as a child, like it was all there from the start.
Floral arranging seems to be having a boundary-breaking renaissance right now. What is it about this art form that is attracting people?
I feel like there are two parallel movements happening. Social media has given a lot of exposure to this overlooked art form—and it very quickly allowed this new exchange of ideas and visible reinvention. Secondly, people now more than ever are searching for that connection to nature. A lot has been said about it being a reaction to a more digital world etc. But whatever the case, that renewed interest has allowed floral designers to loosen up and get a little wild.
Queerness is so often disruptive to the status quo. Do you feel it has played a part in how you approach such a time honored art form as floral design?
For sure! Floral design comes from a very formalized, traditional place. That applies to the visual form, but also to its cultural meaning. Flowers are deeply connected to ideas of heteronormative romance. So you could say that, like, getting wacky and throwing a feather or a rotten orange into the middle of a bouquet is not only breaking with traditional form, but also queering those heavy cultural meanings surrounding flowers.
Your work has elements of surrealism, camp, sultry, and even a little psychedelia. How do you describe your work in your own words?
When I work it’s often pretty ‘stream of consciousness.’ It’s like doodling. Because you’re working with an organic material, you can never be in complete control; you have to approach the medium always with a sense of play and adaptability. I think that process probably translates to the overall visual. ‘Playful’ is probably a good word to use—playful, with a fine line of tacky, ha ha.
You are being featured during the week of Anjelica, the green candle. Green has traditionally presented nature in the PRIDE flag, although we have nicknamed it "Dame Nature." Exploring, embracing, and expressing our true nature, is a big part of Pride. As someone who works in an organic medium, how does nature allow you to express your own inner nature?
To sorta go back to the cultural meaning of flowers, they are unavoidably viewed as feminine. And when you work with a medium that is loaded with that sort of gendered dynamic, you are forced to engage with it in every single arrangement. I think the same can be said for a lot queer experiences. The feminine, the masculine, whether you sit inside or outside of it, you’re still constantly being confronted by it, so it’s easy to view it as an obstacle. But it’s way more exciting when you start to view it as a tool that you can bend and twist in whatever way you like.
What was the concept for the Boy Smells’ PRIDE shoot? Do you have a favorite image?
We had some idea of the themes we wanted to focus on with each candle. But as I started brainstorming visuals for each scent, I found myself constantly leaning into classic queer cinema. It ranged from the “Wizard of Oz” to “Metropolis,” and “Xanadu” to “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” I feel each set up and image brought me joy in different ways, it'd be hard to single one out. However, I am always a sucker for fluffy, pink, precious moment—so Cameo might be a smidge in front of the others.
Can you tell us about some of the custom props you had created for the shoot?
I had a series of arches built that nod to the classic rainbow iconography, but there’s also something a little Art Deco, or jukebox-y about them. And then we built a small stage and grand staircase to really up that camp factor. So that whole cinematic, theatrical theme continued right through to the props.
This Pride is obviously different from all years past. What are you viewing PRIDE differently this year?
I think ‘intersectionality’ is a big takeaway. No fight for equality exists independently. It’s impossible to believe in equality for the LGBTQ+ community without also supporting the fight for racial equality. The fundamental importance of BIPOC from the very first riots at Stonewall is queer history 101 at this point. But I think this current moment has really allowed a lot of people, for the first time, to sit with themselves and truly feel the significance of that history. So by all means have that “Chromatica” on loop, but when the transition to “911” hits, and you're in peak gay ecstasy, y'all best be acknowledging that true equality exists in a world where 911 isn't the only number we can call for help.
Follow Carl on Instagram via @carl.ostberg.