As we enter Pride month, it’s important to reflect on the positive changes and small steps we’ve made to obtaining equality by recognizing the influential achievements and contributions from those who identify under the queer umbrella, as well as allies. Pride began as a protest, first and foremost, and we must not forget that.
Around the world there is still plenty of work to be done and progress to be made in preaching equal rights and obtaining equality in areas such as legalizing all marriage, supporting trans rights, and preaching fair treatment for those who may not be in a position to speak for themselves.
• Read more: 10 queer photographers you need to follow on Instagram (opens in new tab)
Those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, don’t tend to get as much screen time or grace the covers of magazines in media as frequently as they should. Representation matters, including in the context of ethnicity, and seeing queer lives or those who resemble themselves represented in the media can make a huge impact to minority groups, as well as inspiring younger children.
Legendary LGBTQIA+ photographers such as Catherine Opie, Robert Mapplethorpe, Nan Goldin and Sunil Gupta paved the ways for representation and historic documentation for decades, providing a solid and substantial foundation of images for the new generation of queer photographers to build upon.
Pride is for many a reminder of the struggle for acceptance that has been ongoing since the gay rights movements of the 1960s, It commemorates the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and has since become an international celebration of diversity and individual freedom. Many queer and LGBTQIA+ artists, content creators and photographers are making attempts to reclaim digital space and sway from heteronormative media with bias towards the “normality”.
As we wave around our rainbow flags and get a little bit tipsy in celebration this month, let’s not forget the importance of Pride and what it truly represents. Here’s a list of photographers who are/have been making a huge difference in queer representation and demonstrate what being LGBTQIA+ looks like in 2022.
Visual activist and photographer, Zanele Muholi (they/them), creates intricate self-portraits as a means of power and identity politics. Their self-proclaimed mission is “to rewrite a Black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond.” they told Autograph in 2017.
Their work, Faces and Phases, in which they depict black lesbian and transgender individuals documents the existence of trans and queer individuals of color as a means of protest by being unapologetically themselves, with a desire to offset the stigma and negativity attached to queer identity in African society.
Hobbes Ginsberg describes their relationship to gender identity as: “I’m queer, but not trans. My pronouns are they and she” (as they spoke with Feature Shoot (opens in new tab) in 2015). Their work is centered around self-portraits, however they are beginning to expand into areas of moving image. Their use of color theory is extremely aesthetically pleasing and ties nicely into Ginsberg’s own femininity with connotations of delicacy and lightness.
Asa Johannesson’s work on The Queering of Photography explores the notion of gender as nonconforming and presents a critique of binary-rooted systems of thinking, that exist within the dominant discourse of photography.
Joebert Tupas is a queer Filipinx fashion photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. His photographic work is focused on highlighting both the beauty and power in queerness, inspired by his own journey as a queer man from a small province in the Philippines, later obtaining a masters degree in photography from New York’s School of Visual Arts. His interests lie with deconstructing societal and gender norms, telling queer narratives, and anything weird!
Greg Bailey is a Brighton-based UK photographer specializing in drag portraiture, and is the creator and author of Alright Darling? The Contemporary Drag Scene, a zine produced by Bailey in 2015 to document drag in a non-campy way. He’s quoted stating “Drag isn’t just fabulous; it’s a political statement, and it makes you question your understanding of sexuality and gender”.
The zine includes styled portraits of famous Queens featured on the hit TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race as well as backstage candid moments that showcase new and emerging drag talent, later adapting the zine into a podcast with multiple episodes and special guests.
Mengwen Cao is a Chinese-born queer photographer, educator and artist based in New York. Their work uses care and tenderness to explore elements and spaces between race, gender, and cultural identity. They are a board member of Authority Collective, a group of womxn, non-binary and gender expansive people of color
who all work in the photography, film and creative industries and are taking action against systemic and individual abuses that occur in the world of lens-based editorial, documentary and commercial visual work.
Mengwen champions diverse narratives and perspectives in the media industry through their photography, and have hosted numerous artist talks, panels, guest lectures and exhibitions around themes of being free to love and hidden narratives.
Founder and editor of BRICKS magazine, an independent queer led publication, Tori West is not only an exceptional journalist and multidisciplinary creative, but an educator too. BRICKS magazine has its own London photo studio, based in Brixton.
Working with queer photographers, BRICKS magazine and its team have in addition to its print and publication mag created an alternative education platform that readers can subscribe to in exchange for exclusive content from industry experts advising on how to navigate the creative industry.
BRICKS has also created an ‘Opportunities Board’ that is published every Wednesday for subscribers listing the available grants, jobs and freelance roles on offer. Tori has a dedicated following on Instagram and TikTok, and also hosts BRICKS Learner’s Podcast that features special guests and industry experts to address a dire need for more accessible, alternative education methods for young people.
A conceptual photographer born in Athens, Greece, Kostis Fokas grew up in a very religious environment and his work takes focus by exploring the intricacies of the human body as a site of social and political enquiry. Kostis draws on discourse surrounding the construction of the self, body, queer, and posthumanist theories, and the performative structures of his models and photographs look into the relationship between identity and physicality.
Russian artist and photographer Emmie America currently resides in New York and explores narratives in her photography around themes of coming-of-age vulnerability, having no sense of belonging, insider outsider perspective, LGBTQIA+ communities and experiences, and party culture as the ultimate cure.
Emmie has shot numerous images for Vogue Russia and is a staple in the fashion and art photography scene. Her activism work had her detained and charged with misdemeanor at one stage when herself and 25 others dressed in police uniforms and surrounded the word “Freedom” that had been written in the snow. Emmie is also a part-time professor at The Rodchenko Art School in Moscow.
Photographer and human rights activist Robin Hammond has dedicated his long career to amplifying the narratives of marginalised groups, through long term visual storytelling projects.
Robin is also the founder of Witness Change, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing human rights. He has been the recipient of multiple awards including two World Press Photo prizes, the W.Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography, and six Amnesty International awards for Human Rights journalism.
Lia Clay Miller
Lia is a trans fashion and portrait photographer originally from North Carolina, now based in Brooklyn, New York. She has shot for the likes of Vogue, Elle, Gayletter, i-D, and The New York Times among others and has established herself as one of America’s leading trans photographers. She makes a deep connection with her subjects, even when photographing well-known celebrities.
An Iranian/American photographer, Melody‘s work focuses on ideas surrounding gender identity, sexuality and things the body cannot tell about gender. Her cohesive portraiture and contemporary art allows her subjects to simply exist and breathe without any glamourising. Her subjects are sitters of all shapes, sizes, color, races and gender identity.
Photo books on Queer photography
• New Queer Photography: Focus on the margins by Benjamin Wolbergs. Available from Amazon (opens in new tab).
• Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s by authors Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell. Available from Amazon (opens in new tab).
• Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians by Joan E. Biren (JEB). Available from Amazon (opens in new tab).
• Read more:
Best books on portrait photography (opens in new tab)
Best camera for portraits (opens in new tab)
Best lens for portraits (opens in new tab)
This is not an opinion piece, this is fact – gender & photography edition (opens in new tab)
Don’t You Want Me – a photo series exploring the relationship between queer owners and rescue dogs (opens in new tab)
Legends of Drag photo exhibition takes this glamorous art form mainstream (opens in new tab)