10 emerging photographers with new lenses on queerness
Meet the photographers exploring what it's like to be young and queer in 2017.
Photography Ryan James Caruthers
Queerness is impossible to capture in a single image. It's like a mood ring, forever changing its appearance. During the early 20th century, photographers portrayed queer masculinity as Romanesque poses, collegiate athletes, and glistening pecs — their pictures printed inside magazines with titles like Adonis and Demi-Gods. Thankfully, in later decades, artists including James Bidgood, Duane Michals, and Tee Corinne added new dimensions. And with photographers like Wolfgang Tillmans, Collier Schorr, and Ryan McGinley now at the forefront, queer photography is no longer hidden beneath mattresses; it's printed on mammoth-sized Calvin Klein billboards.
Today, there's a rising class of photographers turning Instagram and Tumblr into their experimental darkrooms and casting new light on the full spectrum of sexuality. Queens-based photographer Mickey Aloisio shoos away those Adonis physiques and creates gentle portraits of heavy-set queer men. And London-based photographer Erika Bowes posts jubilant, color-saturated portraits of gender-queer friends discovered through Instagram. These are the emerging photographers adjusting their apertures and snapping the fleeting moments of being young and queer.
Serge Le Hidalgo
"I like to believe that nudity can approach the essence of a person," says Serge Le Hidalgo, a Spanish photographer based in Paris. His sunbathed images feel like a lazy Sunday spent with a lover. His subjects meander around the house nude and relaxed, sunlight illuminating the nooks and crannies of their bodies. Hidalgo's soft-hued images have struck a chord on Tumblr, where standouts have received reblogs and likes in the thousands. "Showing my work is very important to me because I need feedback," he says, "I need to feel that what I am doing is interesting to somebody." Hidalgo studied photography in Madrid, but credits a former boyfriend for his current aesthetic: "He gave me a Fujica Stx-1, which I started taking photos of him naked with. That was the best school."
Devin N. Morris
Devin N. Morris describes his photos as existing somewhere between a dream and a memory. For viewers, this rings true immediately. With models dressed in tattered, post-apocalyptic fashion (reminiscent of the experimental silhouettes of Hood by Air and Vetements), Morris executes theatrical portraits of what blackness is and what blackness can become. "I look to extend the functionality of dress by ignoring implied gender restraints of color, shape or design," he says about the intensive styling and curating that goes into his shoots. "My work prioritizes speaking directly to individuals least represented in classical imagery: people of color and, more specifically, Black Americans."
Growing up in Texas, Luke Smithers first used photography as a form of escapism. During his formative years, he would sneak onto his neighbors' lawn, set up a tripod, and take self-portraits. "I would then transform their lawn into an African savanna in Photoshop, with a zebra and me in the middle," he reflects. Now a senior at NYU, Smithers delves even deeper into his ornate fantasies through his work. He frequently places himself at the center of his images, orchestrating elaborately staged tableaux vivants. "There is a kind of theater to all the work I do that I associate with my own gayness," he says. "Every piece I shoot contains the elements of my desires at the time."
"I got into photography because I wanted to remember beautiful things," Oakland-based photographer Meg Allen says. "There were these everyday moments — really mundane occurrences like waiting for a ride — that overwhelmed me and felt universal." When shooting, Meg finds herself attracted to the beauty in female masculinity. Her photos are no-frills portraits that offer hyper-realistic representations of a group of women that is often reduced to misogynistic stereotypes. "My work will always include some element of butch and queerness, because that is what I am and what colors my perception of the world," she says. While other queer photographers may concern themselves with presenting glossy, fantastical versions of their experiences and interior lives, Meg just wants to highlight the "meh"-ness of being queer. "The reality is we're not that complicated," she says. "Some of us are even really boring and want to own homes, have good jobs, and marry legally."
Since he was a child, carrying around a disposable camera, Amos Mac has had an affinity for storytelling. Now an associate television producer (he worked on season two of Gaycation),Mac has captured the best of the best through his lens. He worked with Zackary Drucker to release Translady Fanzine, a collaborative periodical, and captured Juliana Huxtable for a yet-to-released project. And, in 2009, he and a friend founded Original Plumbing, a trans male print publication. "It started out of a photo series I was taking of trans men. But then I wanted to pair images up with interviews because I was sick of seeing trans people as voiceless faces and body parts through a cis lens," he says. Recently, Mac changed roles again and sat in front of the camera to share his own trans experience in The Trans List, an HBO documentary produced by Janet Mock and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
Ryan James Caruthers
Photographer Ryan James Caruthers loves a man in heels. In his minimalist images (you can usually count the colors on one hand), he captures the softness of queer masculinity. "My aesthetic is very much about subtlety," he says. "Even if the work isn't directly discussing queerness, these ideas always end up presenting themselves as hints." He began experimenting with analog photography at 14, taking self-portraits in the woods near his childhood home and posting the images on Flickr. "I admired the ability to interact with people who were similar to me even if it was purely on a visual level." One of his standout images is of a young, fresh-faced male model flexing his muscles like a WWE wrestler while wearing a crushed velvet dress (designed by Michael Laed and styled by Shawn Lakin). Masculinity and femininity is not an either/or decision, the photo appears to suggest; they exist within each other. And in a world where queer males are frequently forced to choose between top or bottom, femme or masc, that's a poignant statement.
"It's remarkable how much someone's willing to share once their clothes come off," says Mickey Aloisio. His nude portraits of heavy-set queer men (called "bears" in the tribe-filled queer male community), feature his subjects staring straight at the camera — daring the viewer to judge or criticize them. "I think queerness has become such a large part of my life that it would be hard not to include it into my work," Aloisio says. "For example, I recently drove across the country for 90 days to expand my portrait series, specifically seeking out heavier-set gay men. I often stayed in the subject's home. If it wasn't for the queer community, I don't think I would have made it as far or as long as I did. Without them, I'd have no project."
Diego Villarreal just finished walking in fall/winter 17 shows for Balmain, Givenchy, and Versace, but he's just as mesmerizing behind the camera as he is in front of it. His photos typically feature his fashion friends gallivanting around New York City in gender-breaking outfits, bathing in the excesses of youth. There's a permanent stain of joyful smuttiness on his whitewashed images — nipples, sweat, and pouts. "Right now, I'm very into fetishes," he says of as his current inspirations. The Spanish model/photographer uses a simple guiding principle when it comes to deciding what to shoot: "The funnier and weirder, the better."
Erika Bowes's craft has grown through casual trial and error. She fell into photography as a teenager, when she posted pictures of her dog on Tumblr. "It was a terrible, embarrassing post but I remember being obsessed with capturing composition, weird angles, movement, color combinations and shadows — as I have been ever since then," Bowes explains. Her work has now blossomed, regularly featuring bright colors, diverse models, and alternative fashion. When developing a shoot, Erika strives to paint the spectrum of her subject's personalities. For example: when shooting for Fruits Zine, she celebrated her model's pansexuality in the image's kaleidoscopic color palette, creating a radical, multidimensional portrait of her queer femme subject.
Doug Paul Case
"I'm intrigued by the angles of the male body: how they jut, sharpen, and do marvelous work with, in, and through light," Doug Paul Case says of his work. A graduate from the MFA program at Indiana University, Case discovered photography after taking a poetry workshop. "The poet Catherine Bowman offhandedly asked if I also took photographs," he says. "I'd been writing about the jocks running through campus in tiny red shorts. At the time I never had [taken photos] seriously, but I tried it because she thought the practice would help ground the images in some of my overly cinematic poems." Case's photos feel like poetry. He plays around with textures, fabrics, and double exposures to create images that feel like mood boards. And just like a good poem, his images leave room for interpretation. "I think the most important function of queerness in art, and in daily life, is to force its viewer to reconsider what beauty the world has made and is thus capable of creating," Case says.
Text André-Naquian Wheeler