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'MATTE' Magazine Presents: Rachel Stern

Watch this video interview with Rachel Stern, whose photographs of drag queens and other performers are featured in issue no. 23 of MATTE magazine, exclusively on VICE.

MATTE magazine is a photography journal I started in 2010 as a way to shed light on good work by emerging photographers. Each issue features the work of one artist, and I shoot a portrait of him or her for the issue's cover. As photo editor of VICE, I'm excited to share my discoveries with a wider audience.

Issue 23 of MATTE magazine represents a great leap forward in terms of the series as a whole. Featuring a rich new body of work by Rachel Stern, the issue is more than 50 pages long—making it by far the biggest issue of the magazine to date. Inside, you'll find a foreword by Nathaniel M. Stein, who is currently the Horace W. Goldsmith Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You'll also find an introductory poem by Paul Legault, and infographics designed by Joseph Kaplan. This is all in support of Stern's new pictures, which have been produced over the last year.


Often collaborating closely with performance artist James Lyman, Stern creates a vibrant world out of cardboard and plastic in her studio. Sourcing materials for her sets from Oriental Trading Co, and the kind of catalogues that sell supplies for high school proms, Stern transforms the disposable plastic crap of our daily lives into exotic wonderlands. A self-described "art history fan girl," Stern freely mixes references to classical Greek and Roman mythologies, reality TV, contemporary drag culture, and her own personal narratives. As Stein says in the issue's foreword, "all motifs, symbols, and traditions are subject to extravagant pastiche. Only, check your irony at the door. Authenticity has a new vocabulary these days."

Infographic by Paul Legault, design by Joseph Kaplan

Perhaps the most enticing thing I could say about these pictures is that they don't look like anyone else's. And that's true—so mixed and so varied are Stern's references, it's difficult to pinpoint an exact lineage in photographic history that leads up to this work. In the end one thing is abundantly clear: Stern is having a lot of fun making these pictures.

Portrait of James Lyman and Rachel Stern by Matthew Leifheit, inspired by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks

This issue also features the first in what will become a series of video interviews with the photographers featured in MATTE. In the past, VICE has published text interviews with the subjects of MATTE magazine. But Cameron Cuchulainn, a talented producer and photographer based in NYC, thought it would be interesting to meet the artists in a more personal way. Thanks to Cameron for urging me to take that step and producing the interview you see here. Thanks to Annelise Jeske for editing the video.

Purchase Issue 23 of MATTE magazine, featuring Rachel Stern, here.

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