this is what queer looks like
I grew up in a very small, conservative town in south-eastern Ontario. While my family was relatively left-leaning (and certainly would not have been angry if I came out as queer), I always considered myself just a really great ally to the LGBTQ+ community. It was not until I had the chance to meet one of my favourite bands, where I heard the singer say he is simply “not straight,” that a lightbulb went off in my head. I realized that, I too, am simply not straight.
As many queer people do, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my childhood and teenage years since having that realization. It’s quite funny to think of the things that were clear indicators of my sexuality, but went completely over my head. I definitely think that one of the major reasons I didn’t know was due to the stereotype I had in my mind of what a queer person looks like. This stereotype was likely shaped by years of being immersed in an extremely homophobic environment with a lack of any queer role models in my life - and it didn’t look like me. It wasn’t until my final year of high school (when I met the aforementioned band) that this stereotype began to shift, and until I moved to Toronto for school that it was completely shattered.
This project is called this is what queer looks like, and it is a small exploration of how queer people present themselves to the world. I encourage viewers not to look for similarities among the portraits, but rather differences that make each one unique. While I hope that the viewer is challenged if they have their own stereotype, this project is also meant to serve as a reminder to myself: there is no particular way to look queer.
this is what queer looks like was shot on a Polaroid One600 and using Colour 600 film. I posted an open call for models on my Instagram story in early March, and this is how most of the subjects were found (though I was already familiar with most of them). Each model was asked to come styled in whatever felt “the most you”. Once their portrait was taken, I carefully transported the Polaroid home and scanned it to my computer. My website was pre-existing, so I just added a new page for the project to live.
I think the relationship between analog photography (especially Polaroid) and a digital presentation is quite intriguing. To present Polaroid images in a digital space seems oxymoronic, since their uniqueness is in their physicality. As discussed in “The Polaroid Image as Photo-Object” by Peter Buse, Polaroid images carry a certain presence that makes them feel as though they are alive. The layers surrounding and protecting the image are akin to skin or clothing wrapped around a body1. The physical nature of Polaroids also seem to allow the images to carry what Walter Benjamin refers to as an “aura”. Since they are one-of-a-kind in the physical sense, they possess a preciousness; they are beautiful and delicate, and I believe they can only truly be appreciated in person. Benjamin suggests that the more a work of art is reproduced, the more it loses that aura and therefore its authenticity. After scanning the images for this project into the digital world, I definitely think they lost much of the precious aura they seem to have in reality. And yet, they still seem to carry more character than a digital image. Nonetheless, this is what queer looks like:
1 Buse, “The Polaroid Image as Photo-Object,” 190.
Buse, Peter. “The Polaroid Image as Photo-Object.” In the Journal of Visual Culture, pp. 189-207. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2010.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, by Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, pp 18-40. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2005.