Manhattan-based photographer Angelo Capacyachi created Untitled (Utopia) as an affirmation of his own personal utopian ideal
“Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality,” read the indelible opening lines of José Esteban Muñoz’s book, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009).
In this dense yet groundbreaking work of queer theory, the Cuban-American academic suggests that queerness is a future-oriented, utopian state of being and doing. It is the rejection of “the here and now” for “a then and there”. It is “a longing that propels us onward”, beyond the struggles of the present – a collective imagining of a better future. Progress, according to Muñoz, is not about “mere inclusion in a corrupt and bankrupt social order”; instead, “we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds”.
Taking Muñoz’s thesis as his starting point, New York-based image maker Angelo Capacyachi envisions his own queer utopia in his photo series Untitled (Utopia). Born in Rutherford, New Jersey and now living in Manhattan, Capacyachi’s work is “a constant exploration of queer affirmation”, whether it’s vibrant, textural still lifes of queer signifiers or tender portraits of his friends and community. “Desire, intimacy, yearning and stillness are everywhere in my work,” the 23-year-old tells Dazed.
Capacyachi has felt compelled to create worlds since his early teens, when he’d make short YouTube films with friends. “That was before I was even aware of the queer history of world-making, and of what it means to have to make your own world,” he says. He started Untitled (Utopia) last summer, as part of his BFA Photography degree at Parsons School of Design. He began by exploring “the history of queer visuality in New York”, from photographers like Jack Pierson, David Armstrong and Nan Goldin, to more recent “queer world-makers” like Clifford Prince King and Elle Pérez.
His introduction to Muñoz’s work came via a teacher at Parsons, who had himself been Muñoz’s mentee. With its themes of queer futurity, world-building and temporalities, Cruising Utopia became the intellectual framework encasing Capacyachi’s photo series. Just as Muñoz describes the “ephemera” of queer experience “as trace, the remains, the things that are left, hanging in the air like a rumour”, Capacyachi’s utopia is a map of fleeting or unassuming moments, objects and sensations.
He captures the sheen of an elevator wall, suggestive graffiti scribbles (“IN PURSUIT OF MAGIC dick”), and a recently-worn t-shirt hanging on a hook. “I’m focussing on traces of human contact because the queer utopia in this project is an intimate place that people have passed through,” he explains. He likens this “passing through” to cruising, “not necessarily in a sexual sense, but as a movement towards something – a ‘stepping out of this place and time to something fuller, vaster, more sensual, and brighter’, as Muñoz writes.”
While sun-dappled portraits of his friends crystallise moments of serenity and being embraced, Capacyachi’s utopia also preserves memories of pain and isolation. Last summer, he shot a series of self-portraits immediately after receiving the monkeypox vaccine. In one mirror selfie, he squints into the lens of his point-and-shoot, bending his arm to reveal the tiny plaster.
“It was such a bizarre, isolating time. Being told by the government that this disease specifically affects men who have sex with men, but being given very little information about it,” he remembers. “I literally had no one to talk to about the vaccine. It was like trying to spot that tiny bandaid, which is almost hidden in the image – you really had to go looking for support.”
Capacyachi sought to memorialise this moment for his “future self”. “It was a tender time but, in a way, it was also beautiful. It was when I realised I needed to recalibrate my community and what it meant to have holding,” he continues. “I always say that affirmation is at the intersection of resistance and pain, because asking to be seen and heard hurts sometimes. The very need to create a utopia is a painful one.”
“You have to go out into this world and face the present. But imagining a utopia and holding one close can give you the strength to do so” – Angelo Capacyachi
The final shot of the series is a graffiti scrawl that he stumbled across on the Lower East Side a month before he was due to debut his photo series. It reads, “a utopia is possible – A”. Capacyachi laughed at the serendipity of his discovery; he even shared the initial of his first name with the anonymous author. “It was so residue-y, like someone had just written it. I felt like the universe wanted me to find it,” he says.
The fragment also got him thinking about other people’s versions of utopia: “With this work, I’m not saying I’ve photographed the only queer utopia, or even my only queer utopia. Utopias are so intimate and expansive.”
After a year of working on the project, Capacyachi admits feeling exhausted by his constant focus on queer futurity. “Of course, you can’t always think in terms of the future, you have to go out into this world and face the present,” he says. “But imagining a utopia and holding one close, whatever form it takes, can give you the strength to do so.”
To see more of Angelo Capacyachi’s work, visit his website.