Queer Friends is an ongoing portrait series of people from across the LGBTQ community, shot by @studiograbdown (photographers James Barnett and Poppy French). It recently launched at Dalston Superstore in London.
The photo series — which has strict rules of no retouching and no special lighting — includes well-known LGBTQ ambassadors, including writer and comedian Mark Gatiss, performance artist Harry Clayton Wright and Le Fil, the British-Chinese “genderfuck pop star activist.”
The Queer Friends project took many of those photographed outside of their comfort zones. Barnett says, “One of our aims was to meet people in real life that previously we had only ever had digital relationships with. With apps and websites making digital connections easier, and in an age of disappearing queer safe spaces across the U.K., sometimes we need reminding that it can be an even more enriching experience actually encountering someone face to face!”
We asked Burnett about what “queer” means to him and the Queer Friends project.
“Queer is so many things, but fundamentally it’s approaching how we live our lives differently, and not questioning how people want to identify or live their lives,” Barnett says. “Queer visibility is so important. Statistically there are a lot less of us out there in the world, so we have to stay visible and ensure that our ‘culture’ permeates the heteronormative conscious. People need to know we exist, we’re proud and we’re not going anywhere. The more visible, the better.”
The Queer Friends project takes the opposrtunity to “have fun with ‘queering the norm,'” says Barnett, particularly when it comes to common notions of what should and shouldn’t be photographed.
“One of our subjects was Pete May (drag queen Just May). Pete identifies as ‘queer’ instead of ‘gay’ because, as a teenager, negative narratives within ‘gay culture’ forced him to feel like he faced impossible expectations around his physical appearance. Many of our subjects recounted similar stories to us.”
The Queer Friends exhibition runs through July 2018.