35 Queer Photographers Illustrate What “Pride” Really Means

by W Staff

Mayan Toledano

Four decades ago, the photographer Tom Bianchi began capturing the nearly 10,000 gay men who every summer flocked to their Eden in a specific part of New York’s Fire Island. His snapshots are now a staple of queer imagery, but it took Bianchi years to publish them. His experience is just one example of how the queer community has gained less mainstream acceptance over the years than it has appeared on the surface level. True queer representation is still all too real a problem today. After all, it’s still rare for the oft-tokenized queer community to be the ones to represent themselves, which is why this Pride Month W asked 35 queer photographers to illustrate how they personally define pride and queer identity. Matthew Papa’s image of himself on his 50th birthday, for example, tells how the day was an even bigger milestone because, after the AIDS crisis, he never expected to reach that age. Myles S. Golden, on the other hand, boldly rejects the legacy of one of the most famous LGBTQ+ forebears, Robert Mapplethorpe, by criticizing his commodification of black bodies. That only proves Vanessa Rondon’s point that there’s far too much complexity and variation within the work of queer artists to label them as only that. Celebrate Pride with a spectrum of opinions on what exactly the word means, here.

Hawaii 50 (2017). Photograph by Matthew Papa.
Matthew Papa

“This image was taken in Hawaii last year where I celebrated turning 50—a milestone that, for many years, I didn’t expect to reach. I came out in the ’80s, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, so my queerness has always been framed by a sense of fear and resistance. A lot has changed in those three decades, and while acceptance of our community has grown in ways that I never imagined, we need to remain vigilant. Our current political climate has made it apparent how progress can be stopped in its tracks, and even turned backward.” —Matthew Papa

Manifest (2017). Photograph by David Uzochukwu.
David Uzochukwu

“A frightening aspect of queerness was the mind-numbing loneliness growing up. Dozens of voices from outside found their way inside, and I could barely hear anything over the raging noise. But the more you learn to trust yourself, the more they quiet down. The more you stand up for yourself, the more joy you find.” —David Uzochukwu

Robert Mapplethorpe This Is Not Your History (2016). Photograph by Myles S. Golden.
Myles S. Golden

Robert Mapplethorpe This Is Not Your History was created as a direct retaliation to the Portfolio Z series shot and captured by Robert Mapplethorpe in the late ’70s. In photo history, Mapplethorpe’s works are often sourced and attributed as visual etymologies for queer representations—losing sight of how the gaze of whiteness makes a spectacle of blackness when it’s being is rendered as just ‘body.’ In my photograph, I use the oppositional gaze—one that looks back—as well as the unreadability of shadowing, removing that which Mapplethorpe most profoundly commodified to be the definition of blackness and maleness to disavow the anthropological racism constructed within his Portfolio Z series. I, the artist and the collaborator, take back what is seen, what can been seen, and what of my body is for consumption.” —Myles S. Golden

Kris and Honey (2017). Photograph by Lia Clay.
Lia Clay

“As a queer and trans-identified artist, it’s important for me to raise these stories up and create a space for diversity among mass media that is often portrayed through a cis-normative lens. ‘Trans’ or ‘queer’ might be used to identify us, but it’s not all that identifies us. Our presence belongs here, too, and as we move forward, it’s important to note that representation isn’t just about illuminating us, but including us, as well.” —Lia Clay

Flowers (blue, purple, pink) (2016). Photograph by Res.

“‘Pulse’ is a series of images made at Pulse Nightclub immediately following the shooting on June 12, 2015, which is now remembered as one of the deadliest mass shootings by a single shooter and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ people in United States history. The photographs made at the memorial, primarily of the fence protecting the crime scene, document the material of public loss around an intimate national tragedy.” —Res

Birth of Lucky (2017). Photograph by Laurence Philomène.
Laurence Philomène

“This image is part of an ongoing documentation of my friend Lucky through our various relationships and transitions in life over the last seven years. To me, queerness is not just about sexuality, but above all about creating our own sense of family, and that’s what this project is about. With my work as a whole, I like to question ideas of androgyny and gender presentation; Lucky and I are both very into the idea of androgyny as a combination of hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity as opposed to a more masculine ‘neutral.’ This photograph is also about unapologetically showing the beauty of trans bodies, as a trans photographer myself.” —Laurence Philomène

Black Dolls (2016). Photograph by Campbell Addy.
Campbell Addy

“The series entitled ‘Black Doll’ came about when William Ndatila approached me to collaborate. He wanted to create a project based around the black doll due to research he’d been doing on the dolls made by the African-American slaves from found materials to give their children a sense of self and identity. With my personal work, I try to further the sense of self and identity within my people, as white media tends to portray us in a certain manner, but we try to fight against that. This image pays homage to those who, despite the adversities they faced, still created something to aid in their struggle, as we’re trying to do today in contemporary image-making and fashion.” —Campbell Addy

Kissing Rolf (2013). Photograph by Matthew Morrocco.
Matthew Morrocco

“This photograph serves as the cover of my photo book, Complicit, which tells the story of relationships with older gay men in New York from 2010 to 2015. The work serves as a reminder that aging, like sexuality, is an essential part of life and worth exploring in all its beautiful complexity.” —Matthew Morrocco.

Pierina Cleaning, Harlem, NYC, U.S. (2016). Photograph by Groana Melendez.
Groana Melendez

“There are certain people I feel I can’t photograph: my dad and my wife, Pierina. I was struggling through a creative block and this moment happened. This was a photograph I had to take. I think I’m finally getting somewhere with this image. As a first-generation American, I am interested in exploring hybrid identities through self-representation. I’m curious about the complex relationships between a family fractured by emigration. Now, as a newlywed, I am looking toward the future by using myself as a subject.” —Groana Melendez

That Implicit Device of Persuasion (October 2017). Photograph by Zen Piet Astrud.
Zen Piet Astrud

That Implicit Device of Persuasion began as a lexicon to speak on identity politics and queerness. A language born of surrealism, it quickly became an intuitive exercise, creating imagery to explore the continual tension in my own mind between logic and the irrational. More fulsome and faithful representations of various people within the ever expanding gender spectrum is more important now as we acquire more tools to become, and remain, visible.” —Zen Schullere-Cablay

Femme Heart Butch Body (2015). Photograph by Diane Russo.
Diane Russo

“After the parade, and the parties, my biggest pride is being with this person.” —Diane Russo

Complex Occupation (2017). Photograph by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.
Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

“Beyond the window an assortment of trees cluster. High enough to hear me in the attic, but static and of no use to the person loading the trunk of their car with household supplies. ‘What do you wear to clean your mess?’ they yell to me from below. All white probably, and happily so—it catches the most residue and provides the most evidence. Red-handed, blue-balled. However, I did learn that if I want my hair to be exactly reddish-brown and not reddish-orange, I can apply the color straight instead of bleaching blonde first.” —Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

Fyodor Is a Star (2018). Photograph by Ryan Duffin.
Ryan Duffin

“I love to reference pop music and culture within my photographs. Growing up queer, pop stars like the Spice Girls, Gaga, and Britney provided a fantastical visual escape from the banality of my bedroom. For images like this, I tap into the bubblegum visuality and sparkly utopia that I, as a queer person and artist, try to create.” —Ryan Duffin

Decaying Pomegranate (2018). Photograph by Andrew Jarman.
Andrew Jarman

“What I like about this image is that the object photographed is recognizable, but not entirely identifiable. Presented in certain conditions, under certain light, the object projects an outward appearance, allowing it to perform a specific visual narrative. What it seems to me is queer about this narrative is how different—arguably contradictory—qualities come together as a unified whole. In this instance, the pomegranate displays signs of decay and rot, as well as beauty and vibrancy.” —Andrew Jarman

Untitled (auto-retrato con mi padre) (2017). Photograph by Alexis Ruiseco.
Alexis Ruiseco

“The responsibility of being Cuban is intrinsically tied to the responsibility of achieving and being the ideal macho. Being non-binary and Cuban means that I have to have a mobile identity—flexible, resilient, complex. It has to tolerate, resist, perform, and constantly transform itself, all while wearing a multitude of masks; the spectacular mask, the banal mask, the quotidian mask, the transcendent mask. Working to legitimize what a queer or trans politic might look like in Cuba is like the picture I made with my father; I am so close to him physically, but there is still a distance between us, a confrontation. As I negotiate my privilege and responsibility in the LGBTQI+ and Cuban communities, what begins to diverge as they intersect? I am creating worlds to come, signals that rewrite the history of Cubanidad—a nuance that includes the futurity of being queer in the nations body and their collective imaginary. Flowing, spilling, teetering, collapsing, and responding.” —Alexis Ruiseco

David (2017). Photograph by Vanessa Rondon.
Vanessa Rondon

“I am a proud queer Latinx immigrant artist, but I don’t want my work to be pigeonholed as simply those things. I am a complex individual and my work explores the human experience.” —Vanessa Rondon

Kiss (2016). Photograph by Ryan James Caruthers.
Ryan James Caruthers

“This photograph is my boyfriend and me mid-kiss. Even though this image is quiet, my hope is that it may still emit noise. Pride is a reminder to support and celebrate those around you—to lift up those who have yet to grasp their sexuality or full identity, and to reflect on the brave queer individuals that came before us and fought for our rights.” —Ryan James Caruthers

Friends (The Piers) (1977). Photograph by Alvin Baltrop.
Courtesy of The Alvin Baltrop Trust, © 2010, Third Streaming, NY, and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York. All rights reserved.

Alvin Baltrop passed away in 2004. His estate shared the following excerpt from the February 2008 issue of Artforum.

“Baltrop photographed obsessively: men engaged in sex shot from the distance of a neighboring pier or clandestinely through a doorway, and men happy to become exhibitionists for the camera at close range; men and women Baltrop came to know at the piers, including some who had no place else to live; guys cruising for sex, sometimes as naked as the nearby sunbathers; people just strolling about, transfixed by the rays of sunlight streaming through disintegrating roof structures; graffiti, some of it the skillful handiwork of an artist known as Tava, who painted in a style that amalgamates Greek vase painting with Tom of Finland; gruesome corpses dredged up from the river and surrounded by the police and onlookers. Most of all, Baltrop photographed the piers themselves, right up to the moment they were razed.” —Douglas Crimp

Bridget and Maya in the Morning (2018). Photograph by Jenna Houston.
Jenna Houston

“Recently, I’ve been documenting individuals and intimate groups from Pittsburgh’s queer community in conjunction with domestic landscapes. As developing cities push queer culture away from the physical and the public, the photos examine how queerness occupies domestic space. I’m invested in the role that performativity, hair, collected objects, and community play in identity.” —Jenna Houston

Journal #44 (2018). Photograph by Sofia Colvin.
Sofia Colvin

“Morgan Saint is my creative collaborator, best friend, and life partner. Working together has been a powerful and intimate experience for us both. Over the past two years, we’ve collaborated on numerous projects, including fashion stories, portraits, and artwork for her upcoming album. Working alongside such a strong female force has been inspiring, as Morgan’s unique feminine perspective is bold and beautiful.” —Sofia Colvin

Lux and Halloween (2017). Photograph by Mikaela Lungulov Klotz.
Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz

“Our bodies and our relationships become our self-inflicted homes, through which we take control and self determine.” —Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz

At an LGBT+ Rally in Response to the Trump Administration’s Muslim Ban (2017). Photograph by Emily Manning.
Emily Manning

“The first gay pride was a riot—not a logo, capsule collection, or rainbow Shake Shack decal. It’s about love, anger, action, memory, family, liberation.” —Emily Manning

Queen on Board (2015). Photograph by Nelson Morales.
Nelson Morales

“The Muxes de Oaxaca are an empowered group of transgender women, who adorn the Oaxacan landscapes and seduce with their fascination and charm.” —Nelson Morales

Griffin (2018). Photograph by Meg Turner.
Meg Turner

“‘The Actual Truth’ is a series of photographic plates celebrating the intimacy, pride, and mutual support of my queer community. Pairing ‘americana’ with a radical queer ethos, these images manifest other possible landscapes; they are a fleeting glimpse of a total re-envisioning of our economic and political reality.” —Meg Turner

Space of Mutation (2018). Photograph by Guanyu Xu.
Guanyu Xu

“In Temporarily Censored Home, I covertly situated photographs in my teenage home in Beijing to queer the normativity of my parents’ heterosexual space. Through positioning and layering images, I aim to disrupt my teenage home. It bridges the relationship between personal and political in the context of the oppressive systems of both China and the U.S.” —Guanyu Xu

Eve (2018). Photograph by Savana Ogburn.
Savana Ogburn

“The series ‘Eve,’ created in collaboration with models Iv Fischer, Marie Snider, and Mystery Meat, creates a fantasy for the sake of queer representation. Placing trans individuals at the center of a biblical story changes the narrative to imply a more inclusive, nuanced story about gender.” —Savana Ogburn

Chloe in Los Angeles (2016). Photograph by Yael Malka.
Yael Malka

“I made a series of photographs of trans folx in 2016 after Trump was inaugurated in order to discuss the possibility of the affordable healthcare act being repealed, which in turn would affect many of their access to the hormones they take. I got to meet and shoot seven people and hear about their experiences in and around their transitions, and the medications they used and currently use. It would be such a shame for people who finally got the chance to be in the body they’ve been waiting for—forced to figure out alternative ways, possibly black market hormones (which is something a few of them were already doing), or even go off of them altogether, resulting in what can be a very painful de-transformation. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act is still intact and I feel very lucky to have met these people who allowed me to take their portraits.” —Yael Malka

Os quiero, gracias (2017). Photograph by Kito Muñoz.
Kito Muñoz

“Pride for me is to embrace the fighters.” —Kito Muñoz

When We Were Strangers (2015). Photograph by Jake Naughton.
Jake Naughton

“Pride to me is about being able to exist, and to celebrate that existence, in whatever way feels true and right. It’s a time to be a little freer, a little wilder, a little more joyful and a lot more queer than our everyday sometimes allows. This image is of me and my partner, Juan, from our book When We Were Strangers, which looks at queer love through the lens of our own relationship.” —Jake Naughton

Beginnings (Texas) (2016). Photograph by Lauren Withrow.
Lauren Withrow

“This image was taken a few years ago, when I was visiting my hometown in Texas. It’s a small town, and naturally is quite conservative. Growing up and experiencing the overwhelming expectation of being a certain way, I never had the courage to express who I am. I repressed my queerness and ignored it so strongly, shoving myself into a box. It’s only after I came across this young couple—hearing their stories, their struggles, their love for each other, and witnessing their fierce confidence in not letting the expectations of a town define them—that I’ve been able to fully allow myself to not hide anymore.” —Lauren Withrow

Kelli and Jen (2017). Photograph by Jess T. Dugan.
Jess Dugan. Courtesy of the Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago.

“To me, pride is about being yourself and loving who you love, an idea exemplified in this portrait of Kelli and Jen, made in 2017 in St. Louis, MO. This photograph is part of my ongoing series Every Breath We Drew, which explores the power of identity, desire, and connection through photographic portraiture.” —Jess T. Dugan

Untitled (2016). Photograph by Chris Smith.
Chris Smith

“I remember that some of my earliest self-portraits, taken while I was in high school and still deeply closeted, seemed like the only way that I could privately express and see myself as the gay man that I knew I was. In them, I learned to embrace who I was on my own terms, expressing my sexuality, masculinity, femininity, and beauty—things that I buried or refused to see in ‘real life.’ It was a revelation and for me. This image, taken in 2016 (the year I came out at the age of 21), represents the same freedom that some of my initial pictures gave me, playing with gender, sexuality, and beauty—all issues that I continue to simultaneously learn about, grapple with, and embrace in both my work and in my life.” —Chris Smith

Boys in Iceland (2018). Photograph by Mayan Toledano.
Mayan Toledano
Trevor in their Bedroom (2017). Photograph by Peyton Fulford.
Peyton Fulford

“Queer kids growing up in the American South deserve to be respected and feel accepted.” —Peyton Fulford

Josh and Jermaine (2015). Photograph by Luis Alberto Rodriguez.
Luis Alberto Rodriguez

“Zooming in on a moment of intimacy between two skins the entangled limbs fall onto one another in a moment of repose. There is a sense of serenity and equilibrium in the act of the two bodies supporting one another. Pride to me is centralising your core and living in honesty. Allowing your spiritual being to be in sync with your physical manifestation/s and vice versa.” —Luis Alberto Rodriguez