On our individual journeys to self-discovery, may we be inspired by these LGBTQIA+ creators pushing the envelope and using photography to tell their stories. May we realise that life is so much better outside the box.
Words by Tammy Danan
It takes courage to bring forth work that challenges stereotypes and boundaries. And these LGBTQIA+ photographers are walking with so much courage.
British-Ghanaian photographer Campbell Addy is a fierce advocate for diversity in his thought-provoking work. On top of his successful photography practice, he has founded a culture magazine called Nii Journal and a modelling agency called Nii Agency, both focussing on the empowerment and representation of marginalised groups, particularly Black men.
Addy is keen for us all to learn from the mistakes of the past to build a more accepting, equitable future. In a 2019 Financial Times interview, Addy says, “Black photographers didn’t just pop up in the late 2010s… Where were the black fashion photographers of the ’80s and ’90s? Oh, I know, they just weren’t given jobs. Historians and writers and journalists need to be critical. And understanding how blackness was viewed in the industry 20 years ago will be key to not making certain mistakes now.”
Simple and realistic but far from ordinary, Laurence Philomene’s images explore the fluidity of gender. This Canadian, non-binary artist infuses their images with colours that pop, making the viewer forget boredom and fall in love with the fun perspective depicted in each shot.
The overlap between femininity and masculinity in the work of Laurence Philomene is simply phenomenal and it’s the kind of overlap that advances LGBTQIA+ representation in the field of photography. As Philomene puts it, “this work is more about showing someone’s identity outside of the norms of gender.”
Artist and photographer Emmie America captures images that push the limits of art. Each shot steers away from typical poses, costumes and scenery to create scenes that awaken the imagination. This 25-year-old artist is based in Moscow, Russia and focuses on producing work that showcases coming-of-age experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community compassionately.
“It is the person you fall in love with, not their body or gender. This same idea translates into my work, where I am very inspired by the people I photograph and care deeply about them,” shares Emmie about her work.
A photographer based in the Philippines, Pau Villanueva wants you to get to know the Lumads – his country’s indigenous people – better. His work explores their struggles, their culture, and how gender exploration plays into it.
“I just chanced upon this experience of interacting with people who do not speak my language nor do I speak theirs. We were new in each other’s culture and photography became our language,” he says. Villanueva added that his exposure to the indigenous community made him realize he’s not here to “just take aesthetic photos, but also to get to know himself better and to get to know the indigenous culture better.” His commitment to self-discovery and his perspective of looking at the world with wide-eyed wonder are both evident in every image that Villanueva takes.
Clifford Prince King
King’s work doesn’t just showcase queer black men. It showcases the realness and relatability of their stories in critical ways. Photographers like Clifford Prince King play a major role in challenging harmful, age-old perspectives on race and gender.
“A lot of the imagery I try to create is just placing Black men in scenarios or scenes that seem familiar,” says King about his work in an interview with Aperture, adding that “the ultimate goal to me is creating imagery where we see these Black men—whether they’re masculine-presenting or effeminate—and give that imagery a space.” King further added that through his work, the viewers are able to get a “glimpse into a Black gay world through scenes and rituals of the everyday.” And we cannot express how necessary this glimpse is.
Naima Green is a photographer best known for her emotive portrait shots. She’s also the artist behind Pur-suit, a deck of 54 cards that feature images of queer, trans, womxn, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people. Her love of portrait photography is evident in Pur-suit, and it’s something she has talked about openly in Office Magazine.
“I continue to commit myself to portrait making because it forces a presence of mind and body that pushes me to show up in the best way I can. I also have the opportunity to start anew (in some ways) with each image, to allow people to show up as they are and as they feel in that moment, and to hold that time for both of us. The portrait doesn’t become a fixed representation, it becomes a small part of the story of a person.”
Fabian Guerrero wants us to forget what we used to know about the macho aura. The LA-based photographer captures images that challenge society’s typical knowledge and understanding of the male body and the typical labels attached to it.
Guerrero is the artist behind Brown Queer Rancheros, a body of work that features queer folks donning traditional ranchero dress and poses in ways that challenge the masculinity associated with rancheros. “It actually started when I was going through family photos and began to notice the fashion for the first time… I really began to see the clothing and what they would wear, from the botas [boots] to the shiny shirts,” he shares about where the project idea came from. Guerrero added that his work is his way of saying, ”I’m gonna make this queer, I’m gonna make this me because I, myself, am a brown, queer body.” His commitment to individuality and self-expression is something we can all learn from.
Michael Bailey-Gates’ work is a testament to his eye for authentic and fluid storytelling. Talking about those who inspire his work, Bailey-Gates says, “I had a good awakening moment with this drag icon, Mother Flawless Sabrina. She said, ‘stop labeling your work as queer—just make work that is just inherently that way.’ It was so freeing to make work that didn’t necessarily have to be so rigid, so now I’m trying to offer up images that don’t use a binary system.” This philosophy shines through in Bailey-Gates’ work as each of his images is so entirely unique.
Good photography requires real emotion, and Ryan Pfluger is an expert at creating the conditions for people’s true selves to emerge. Pfluger knows how to make his subjects comfortable, leading to calm yet striking photography, and a sense of effortlessness in each image.
“I never expect anything out of my subjects, which I think lends itself to some kind of interesting honesty because I let the subjects do what they want to do,” says Pfluger when interviewed about photographing Caitlyn Jenner. “Even when it comes to nudity, I never have any requirement. If you want to take off your shirt, take off your shirt. If you want to be nude, be nude. It’s really about having a dialogue between me and them.”
Nora Nord is an artist and photographer based in London who focuses on mental health and sexuality. Speaking to us about the creative process behind her raw and real work, Nord said, “I like to see things from a nuanced perspective and hold many thoughts simultaneously, and sometimes that builds something big and structural and other times it collapses to create a mess. I think creativity thrives in that mess. Maybe that’s just my ADHD brain.”
Nord’s images make us want to know more about her story. “There is no other path I could be on than mine, and being an artist is who I have always been even if I didn’t know it at the time,” she says when asked about why she’s on this path.
For Nord, championing equality and diversity in her field is a priority. “The creative industry loves to look equal and diverse, but until those same principles are applied to the people behind the camera and the crew, then it’s all a sham. I personally know that cis white straight men are STILL being employed by major brands for Pride shoots. Like, really? Production companies need to step up and do the work, brands need to do better and marginalised people need to be paid in abundance,” she says, adding that, “until then, it’s just exploitation.”
Nord also expressed that while LGBTQIA+ creators have always been leaders in challenging society through their work, having a safe space is not enough. “LGBTQIA+ folks need opportunities, connections, and payment,” she noted.