Queer photography – representing the invisible

Reading 2

I spent an enjoyable Sunday morning at a colleague’s  exhibition, but the rest of the day was spent considering an entirely different aspect of visual representation: queer photography.

Where before I have found that the archetypes of visibly disabled people are often defined by and through media are similar to those women and black people face it seems different with queer photography. In the former cases individuals don’t have a massive amount of choice as covering our gender, race, or visible impairment is often difficult and sometimes impossible, but this is not the same with the issue of sexuality.

Sexuality isn’t visible in the same way as race, gender and impairment and so, I am interested in the concept of Queer Photography in terms of what it is and how the term is represented as it may offer me insights into how I can represent disability (as distinct from impairment and disabled people) as the visual trigger is not present. Luckily for me Aperture covered the subject in its Spring 2015 journal and so this offered me a locus for interrogation.

What is queer photography?
Prior to reading the aperture articles the only other source of information I had come across I talked about here and that definition didn’t gel at all with the results Google images threw up when I search it.


As you can see the imagery is dominated by men and seemed to be to be from a heterosexual point of view looking in rather than homosexual looking in or outward.

So Queer Photography appears to refer to pictures that speak to what it means to be gay. Accordingly I don’t expect to find one unifying theme but rather a diverse set of visual discourses that all share that one thing in common – they view the world from a gay perspective that is distinct and different from the world represented through heterosexual or patriarchal eyes. Let’s see if my assumptions are correct.

Vince Aletti offers an interesting view of Queer Photography: he suggests that it is fundamentally about “queering the pictures” p27 in that it’s how the viewer can appropriate images and interpret them as queer. An example he gives is of images of the muscular Nuba men wresting and how for him this is a queer photo yet its intension and use did not aim for that connotation. Aletti argues that it is in that way, through appropriation, that Queer Photography is wider and stronger than Gay photography as it encompasses more.

Aletti’s position makes great sense but doesn’t really move me on in my quest. His approach suggests that anything can be interpreted (and appropriated) as queer when seen through that lens. That is Aletti makes the point that queering the pictures is all about context and connotation. For example, Robert Mapplethorpe’s images (see here) are interpreted though the knowledge that he way gay and this knowledge means that I interpret the images differently than otherwise. (That must be so surely).

So photos don’t necessarily mean anything outside of the context they are presented in. Hence the point about the Nuba men. But aren’t some photos obviously speaking about  gay experience?

Another question is how would/can a photographer evoke gay connotations without reference to the body?

Aperture 218, Spring 2015, Published by Aperture


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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