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The Savage Ranch
Photography Nick Haymes, courtesy of True Photo Journal, Issue 5

Striking portraits from a queer commune situated on a Californian weed farm

Nick Haymes’ photos show us what our world would look like if queer people were free to live without discrimination

Bailey has led no ordinary life. Conceived by her lesbian mother and her mother's gay best friend while taking acid (her words), Bailey – who was born male but identifies as female – now lives on the Savage Ranch. Located in the middle of the desert, the Savage Ranch is a queer artist commune situated on a weed farm in Southern California and owned by her mother. Described as a queer utopia where visionaries and activists have the chance to live without judgement: trans women walking down the street in nothing but a shirt and heels, bondage harnesses and tutus are common attire, and nudity is reclaimed from society's sexualised gaze.

Documenting life on the commune is photographer Nick Haymes. His eight-year portrait series (recently released in issue five of True Photo Journal), titled “The Savage Ranch”, casts Bailey as the lead character in a narrative that intimately reflects on what our world could be like if queer people were free to live without discrimination. “I met Bailey around 2008. One day I received an email from him saying that he admired my work and wanted to meet. He was a young gay man (although now identifies as trans). Normally I wouldn't even entertain something like this but after seeing some pictures of him at his graduation in a tutu dress with the high school football team, I thought that perhaps it would be fun to meet with such a flamboyant ballsy character.”

Haymes would go on to spend eight years documenting Bailey and her life on the farm. “Bailey’s mum is a lesbian who grows Marijuana on the farm as a business with her ex-girlfriend,” explains Haymes. “The ranch can turn from intimate family home to an art colony at a moments notice.” This theatricality oozes through Haymes’ black and white shots as Bailey and her family perform in hula hoops and face paint. The theatrics in “The Savage Ranch” are so alive that it feels as if the subjects are performing rather than simply living their everyday lives.

Because of this, Hayme’s role as a silent voyeur gives the photo series the authenticity it deserves, using his gaze to illuminate rather than disrupt the commune’s narrative. “I don't believe in a single iconic image saying it all about someone or something,” says Haymes. “Those days have long gone. Photography is now a very worthless disposable medium, where everyone with an Instagram account is a photographer. Time helps establish your dialogue as a photographer – plus it gives the chance to build an honest open working relationship.”

True Photo Journal issue 5 launched exclusively at IDEA earlier this month and will be available to buy from antennebooks.com from 8 February 2018