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Photography Nordine Makhloufi

No place like home: powerful portraits of queer communities in 2022

We take a look back at some of this year’s most celebratory and potent photo stories, sharing the stories of queer communities from all over the world

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘community’? A group of like minded individuals, free in their ability to think, feel and be? A space in which one can express themselves without fear of retribution? Or the feeling of sharing certain attitudes and characteristics with the people you hold close?

For the photographers helming these individual projects on the queer experience, the answer is: all this, and a great deal more. From the majestic expanses of Luke Gilford’s queer rodeo, to the quiet, stirring vision of Fellippe Orellana’s new masculinity, each set of images excels in capturing the triumphant solidarity and complexity of emotion seen in queer communities across the globe.


“It was such a pivotal time in San Francisco’s queer history”, remembers photographer Chloe Sherman, “queer youth, outcasts, and artists flocked to the city to find one another and to experiment with art, self-expression, style, and gender.” Sherman’s heady, redolent photographs, on display at Schlomer Haus Gallery, capture a fabled time in the city’s alternate life story, bursting with electric fashion and rich, storied experimentation.


Helias Doulis craves IRL interaction. In a world dogged by dating apps and their digital transience, pre-internet spaces of real-world eroticism have been lost. Doulis’ photo project, A Faggot’s Destiny, revisits Athens’ forgotten sex cinemas, memorialised in cloven tiles and cuboid TV sets. “What we nowadays call the ‘gay porn booths’”, says Doulis, “were never really built to secure a safe space of community or acceptance for us, but an opportunity to meet men who were pretending to be watching straight porn, but occasionally had sex with gay men.” Although these spaces were not historically a source of community, Doulis deftly reconstitutes them as sites of real-life fantasy world-building.


A sun-drenched embrace in Brixton’s Brockwell Park; a flash of uninhibited joy at bathtime; the naked euphoria of a post-sea shower: Ezekiel’s Bliss takes those seemingly quotidian moments of everyday life and makes them – well – blissful. “I wanted to depict nothing but queer joy, sex, liberation, and all the great things in this life”, mused the photographer. “Essentially, I want to look back at Bliss and think, ‘Wow, what a great life I’ve lived, despite all the hardships we all faced’”.


These vivid, hallucinatory images from Matthew Leifheit’s To Die Alive observe the clandestine underbelly of Fire Island’s queer community. “Most of the imagery I had seen about Fire Island was hot guys in the sun, and this way of looking seemed a lot closer to my experience of sexuality, which has at times been fraught and dark,” acknowledged Leifheit. The volume is also intent on preserving the rebel ethos of the island’s early community, a facet increasingly overlooked in the age of queer cultural assimilation.


National Anthem, Luke Gilford’s first solo exhibition at New York’s SN37 Gallery, sees members of the International Gay Rodeo Association reclaiming the spaces they know and love but felt ostracised within due to their identity. “The IGRA provides the LGBTQ+ community with a unique opportunity to connect with other queer people who are interested in Western and rodeo culture”, says Gilford, “including POC who often feel unwelcome in the almost exclusively caucasian mainstream rodeo circuit.” The photographer’s cinematic portraits of queer cowboys are a restorative balm for the hypermasculinity we so often see in southern rodeos.


In Temporarily Censored Home, Guanyu Xu merges images from his life in the US, of political protests and sexual exploits, with old family photographs from his native China, displaying them across the surfaces of his childhood home. Rather than documenting the exploits of a specific unit, Temporarily Censored Home is a deeply personal work that shows how the collapsing and converging of separate communities can create a new canvas for exploring queer identity. “The work is about how we form these identities through family relationships, objects, and what in the household we see,” reveals Xu, “it’s about how I negotiate my identity”.


In Felipe Orellana’s masculinist ideal, limbs and lips and dirty socks collide to create a serene and wistful kind of ecstasy. For his portraits of young queer men, Orellana uses the “camera as a means to connect and reflect, to create this brief bond with that other person who, in addition to inspiring me with beauty in an aspirational way, invites me to be part of their story for a day or an afternoon.” As well as archiving existing community bonds, Orellana uses the practice of photography to form new ones, establishing a code of vulnerability integral to his work.


Nordine Makhloufi’s desire to convey the power of his chosen family is palpable. “I wanted to show the strength of our queer community here in Paris,”  Makhloufi says of his new photo book, Quand La Ville Dort, adding that, “we are a small community… we’ve suffered losses and illness. But I wanted to highlight our beauty and show the best of us.” Fervent pre-drinks and bundled car shares melt into stolen kisses and messy after-parties. Makhloufi’s photographs expertly capture the lasting emotion of ephemeral nights out.


“It’s important that [drag] communities are intersectional”, says the Irish photographer Eimear Lynch, because, “seeing neurodiverse artists being confident, sexy, and talented in front of adoring audiences is a form of resistance to cultural homogenisation.” This summer, Lynch headed backstage with Drag Syndrome, a collective of drag artists with Down’s Syndrome challenging outdated notions of disability and desire. The resulting portraits are unafraid, capturing a communal energy as well as each star’s individual, indelible allure.

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