1) You mention in your submission text that the work is explored through long term personal narratives. Does focusing on this, help or hinder your mental health?
I don’t have a precise answer to this. The long term narratives keep me going and help me in trying to grasp the spectrum of human experiences- those who like to explore their sexuality and being through an image. So, sometimes this gives me hope of feeling alive, an almost vicarious feeling of living through the other. At other moments, my emotions fluctuate when I am alone and confined. A part of it is because of my way of life which always finds itself in this precarious balance between an utter despair in solitude and desiring intimacy. I don’t try to focus so much about a singular message because I firmly believe that my life and work never had any singular message. It was more an assemblage. And in this very meaninglessness I try to rebuild my life and give my art a semblance of meaning.
2) How do you care for your mental health?
The last few months have been stressful but I have been trying to be more calm,meditate and go on long walks and just lose myself in the city sometimes. Last year, I had a horrible experience myself and I try to not let that be a set back. So I also consult and seek help sometimes. This year, apart from my own fluctuating moods, it has been fairly alright. I don't try to hide my vulnerability and I feel the fact that I share my life with one and all gives me the strength.
3) Why is using photography to express yourself, so important?
I feel photography is an efficient tool for me. It taught me how to speak and I know I am not the only one. My lover was a photographer too, and she died three years ago. So I feel, in a way, it is also my duty to make sense of my surroundings and give meaning to how I look at the world.
4) Within the images you submitted to Transmission, the faces are somewhat covered, or aren’t shown at all. (the subject’s back is to us) Is there a reason for this?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of anonymity and eroticism. The faces shrouded in mystery provoke a sudden desire to know them more and to understand the being further. Queer to me is a way to challenge the logic of beauty, visual representation and how each of us are perceived by the other , less through passion but more so through some historical understanding of culture and background. I want to look at people and how people look at me is through a desire that should go beyond the logic of pure reason. Some of those photographed also are vulnerable and have alternate lives and would like to remain that way. So over time I developed a certain way of looking and of being looked at.
5) Can you give me an example of a queer film, or piece of literature, that has inspired you as an artist or as a person?
David Wojnarowicz is one of my favourite artists, when it comes to understanding and challenging art and its rigid structures , merely through the honesty of being. James Baldwin is another author and novelist who has inspired me a lot over time. I do not have a specific cinema but all works that deal with ideas of love, desire and eros not through a heteronormative lens attracts my intrigue. From young French filmmaker Xavier Dolan to poets like Arthur Rimbaud, artists like Jean Genet, Jean Cocteau fearless writings of Adrienne Rich, to the films of Agnes Verda, the list goes on forever. I am more interested in the whys of living than the art. As the saying goes, Life Imitates Art. Who you are, what you do to fight and survive in this world defines what your art is about.
1) Within your statement for the submission, you mention gym culture being quite a shocking event to yourself. Can you explain a little further your experiences of this?
It probably stems way back from my youth. Growing up as a queer kid I was always made to feel queer by the people around me, especially from males. It became such a thing that eventually I felt anything that was 'masculine' or 'for boys/men' was something I wasn't entitled to or allowed to be a part of. I think back to sports at school, I for sure wasn't under-performing, and in fact performed generally higher than most, yet I'd always be picked last and made fun of. It was moments like these that were constantly affirming in me that my place was not amongst 'the boys'.
In my adulthood I had decided that working on my body was something I'd be interested in, but I had a huge fear of being rejected from such a masculine space again.. In my mind I probably expected people to be sniggering and nudging each other, pointing in my direction, and even verbalising remarks. When I finally got the courage to sign up and attend, I spent about 15 minutes there (not vastly productive, I know), and upon returning home, I cried for an equal amount of time. It was a release of a myth that I was peddled my whole life until that point. The myth that I am less than other men.
The Sculpture 'Bent' is a narrative of this experience of how conditioning as a child warped my own perspective of my masculinity.
2) Do you think body shaming is a problem in the gay community?
Absolutely, it is. And beyond that. It's a cultural phenomenon, but I do believe it disproportionately affects the gay community. I recently put out a survey online to discuss how social media impacts the relationship with self image. There was an overwhelming cry from the gay community about shame. As gay men, you can compare yourself much more easily as you would be able to with two genders, simply because the physical body is more comparable. Sometimes dating felt like guys were sitting there with a checklist, and comparing notes to see if you were worthy. It's really peculiar. There's such a weight on physical aesthetics, that intelligence, charm, kindness, talent and capabilities are all swept under the carpet as secondary or all together unnecessary.
3) If so, what can we do to make queer people feel more accepted?
Delete Grindr, and all adjacent hook-up apps. Honestly, if we can get people to put their phone down and sit in the company of one another, I think we'd learn not just more about others, but also a great deal about ourselves. I am a strong believer in the power of words, and I think the power comes from its ability to convey emotion; an element that is completely void via text/social media. I think if we got together, we'd find that actually, a lot of us feel the same way, and simply want to feel seen and accepted.
4) How do you care for your mental health?
This is a thing I've been working on from a pretty young age. The answer certainly is self love. It has been a huge journey for me to realise that people will always try to weave you into their own narrative of you. As queer people, most of us have already made the hardest breaking of narrative. Our stories are our own to write and tell, because often the path we travel can feel totally unexplored, and we are the true adventurers. I remind myself often that I am going to step on toes, make people turn up their noses, snigger, scorn, but that's because I am defying. It's weird, because sometimes it feels like the majority of citizens in society treat you like a disapproving parent would. You have to take all this and remind yourself that you're living this life for you, and in my case, for others like me too. I practise positive self talk to be that presence and ally that I felt was always missing my whole life, and I say goodnight to myself every night, and tell my inner child I'm proud of them. Oh, and drink plenty of water and don't forget to eat. They call your tummy the 'second brain' for a reason!
5) Can you give me an example of a queer film, or piece of literature, that has inspired you as an artist or as a person?
This is always a super difficult thing, because these moments of inspiration are often so fleeting. Inspiration for me is like building a picture, everything you consume becomes a building block, so often I can't cite one stronger influence than any other. In regards to creators and makers, their output is never usually the thing that inspires me, I'm inspired more about who someone is, rather than what they do. As Rupaul would say 'It's about the tenacity of the human spirit', and ultimately that is what inspires me.
6) I saw on Instagram your AWH Art Foundation course, can you tell us a little more about that, and what you want to achieve with it?
Absolutely! The AWH Foundation was a project I dreamed up for myself, to break my own expectations of myself. I think sometimes as artists we get stuck in a rut, or we've dug ourselves so deep into a project we don't know how to get out or move on. The AWH Foundation was the antidote to that. A short course designed around a similar format Foundation Degree in Art & Design , in which I'd explore a different practice in art, using different mediums, learning new skills, and making things I would never get the chance to in my usual art practice. It was a powerful tool during lockdown, but when darker political times hit, the project came to a halt. I'm still busy trying to collate a little pack of tasks that I can offer for people who need a little burst of refreshing creativity and a chance to enjoy making without having to be overly-critical. In essence, The AWH Foundation to me was like a creative vacation.
1) How did you discover photography and why do you use this medium to express your creativity?
I find photography a very problematic medium with an often-troubled history and ethos. It’s the continual questioning or challenging of the medium that keeps me engaged. On my degree I looked at my family album; this document pertained to record my history, to act as a witness to my growing up. Instead this record was pretty much a fiction, based on a true story. Events and people had been edited to fit the standard family narrative that was continually sold to us through the media. I investigated the constructed language of this document and created alternative ways to document family experience. Initially I was looking at ideas of identity and the self.
My focus widened to look at images of the family; when I felt like I didn’t see my experience reflected back within these photographs I began to look further, to the mirror of popular culture and ideas of representation in general. Recently I’ve begun looking at self-portraiture within social media, particularly within Instagram and dating apps.
2) Why do you cover the subjects face within your photographs?
I think of my photographic work as anti-portraiture; through a variety of devices the model’s face is obscured. This methodology stems from a reaction against photographic history and traditional practice, which I see as exploitative and corrupt. There is an underlying narrative of the exploitation of the other, the model and the unsuspecting public by the privileged.
Geoff Dyer highlights this in ‘The Ongoing Moment’ in which he summarises the canonical photographers who have surreptitiously shot portraits of the blind, the “ultimate natural model”.
My allegiance was always with the ‘other’, and never with the ‘heroic’ figure of the photographer. Beginning with my undergraduate studies I have looked at other ways of working. I aim to protect my models; they are disguised, distanced from the viewer. My models form a collective, repeating the same action, performing the same act. I remember visiting an exhibition of work by Richard Billingham, ‘Ray’s a Laugh’. The audience discussed the family in the photographs, rather than the merit of the photographs themselves. Billingham’s family was judged and ridiculed; I decided that would not happen to my models.
3) Your work is quite colourful, the disruptions/props which cover the faces are bright in colour, is there a reason for this?
In Analogue Disruptions I’m taking photographs that appear to be digitally manipulated or edited, but actually rely on the use of physical props. I’m looking at the language of portraiture within social media. I want the images to look like Instagram stories or profile photos from dating apps. If I colour the wooden props brightly they appear to float on the surface of the photo; the bright neon colour reflect the colour palette available in these apps.
4) Can you give me an example of a queer film, or piece of literature, that has inspired you as an artist or as a person?
It’s difficult to chose just one, but I’d say The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo. The book “Examines the portrayal of homosexual characters in the movies and how it reflects society's beliefs and misconceptions.” The book really taught me how to read popular culture, more importantly it showed me how to read it against the grain. An LGBTQ villain created as a homophobic response to a rising awareness of homosexuality in society can be seen as the hero of the film; disrupting the boring confines of the mainstream and the limits of normalcy, whilst looking fabulous doing it.
5) How do you care for your mental health?
Making my work, whatever it is, really helps keep my mental health on an even keel. The photo shoots are very social in nature, and the prop building gives me something to focus on and keeps me from spending too much time on social media, which is often a trigger for me. I’m currently keeping busy working on an exhibition for James Freeman Gallery in London for this December.