“I want to take the person who’s looking at my photos to another place. When it comes down to it, I feel like I’m an image maker rather than a photographer. I capture moments, but I want to create moments that take the person somewhere else.” Originally from Mongolia, Steven Peice arrived in Dublin when he was thirteen. Here, he speaks with masc about the circumstances that drew him to his craft, and where he plans to take it next.
In search of greater opportunity, Steven’s mother came to Ireland in the name of study and work. Around five years after her arrival, she was joined by her son, then thirteen, who was enrolled in a Christian Brothers secondary school. He didn’t make it to the end: “Those five years in school were horrible. I was there up until the start of sixth year. I got expelled that November, a month after I started [my final year], because my school found out I was in a relationship with a boy. His family were super homophobic and they got me expelled from my school. It was a horrible point of my life. I was shook to the core.”
Adding to an already traumatising episode, the principal hauled Steven’s mother into his office, and her son out of the closet: “My mom and my family took it pretty badly. It was a surprise, I guess. [In school] I was obviously standing out, but I wasn’t out. When the principal sat my mom down and told her that I’m gay, she was shocked. But, like so many parents, they come around to it when they realise that you are who you are. Especially when she saw me really going through such a hard time - she knew it was serious.”
Between schools for a month, Steven painted. Something he nurtured an interest in since he was a small child, it proved particularly therapeutic on this occasion. Later, enrolled in a new school for his final year, and out [“at that point in my life I was like, ‘well fuck all of you, I’m gay so what are you gonna do?’”], he made it to his graduation in May. At around the same time, he got his first camera, offering a way to expand on his interest in painting; enhancing his self-described, “obsession with beauty, people and faces; with creating.”
However, any purposeful or meaningful creative development yielded temporarily to the documentation of an adulthood newly arrived at: “I was going to the beach a lot with my friends and getting drunk, and I always had my camera. I just wanted to capture all the moments that I was experiencing for the first time. Up until I was eighteen, I was always at home painting. I didn’t really have any friends that I could hang out with.”
By the end of that summer, comfortable with his equipment and assured in his ability, he prepared a portfolio, something he never got a chance to do in school, for reasons many LGBT+ people will recognise as more or less broadly familiar: “I was really going through it, just trying to survive. I was fighting with students and teachers all the time. I was so angry at the world. It was the darkest moment. Getting kicked out [of school] and realising that [what happened] was such unfair treatment. I went into a super low depression and tried to kill myself. I wasn’t thinking about school at all.”
Eventually, armed with a strong body of work, Steven was accepted by IADT to study photography. The prohibitive cost of the course later dawned on him, but it didn’t hold him back: I was distraught, but I ended up teaching myself. I’d taught myself everything I know up until that point anyways. I just want to learn the things that I want to learn, so I did that.”
Given the details that he has shared, it’s unsurprising that escapism informs Steven’s understanding of, and approach to photography. It’s what he likes to see, and what he likes to create: “When I first started taking photos, I was going through such a dark time, I just wanted to create new places that I wanted to go to. That’s stuck with me, I guess. I also like to have a little bit of story, and I really try and put the atmosphere that I’m feeling, or the colours that I’m seeing into that moment.”
One of his most recognisable works is his Dublin drag photo essay, The Dreamers which appeared in GCN. Lensed with sensitivity and intimacy, and laced with romance and drama, the portraits are at once as innocent as they are in-your-face. Next up is a return to, and an expansion of this subject. Dreamers in Drag will comprise a YouTube series in which Steven interviews eight queens from the Dublin scene, taking viewers behind the scenes of how he shoots and edits. It launches later this week. Afforded a sneak peak during this interview, his process is mindblowing.
It’s readily apparent that Steven was dealt a difficult hand. Without ever slipping into victimhood, he’s the first to admit how tough it was to play. But he played it nonetheless and it’s coming up good. The last word is his: “I hope I’m not going to sound like I’m taking such pity on myself, I really want to make the point that after all the shit, it taught me a great deal [about] work ethic and drive.” Right on.