This year's Juried exhibition had Performing for the camera as a theme. How can we use photography today to explore various forms of identity?
Photography plays an essential role in staging, documenting, and experimenting with the concept of identity. With the aid of this medium, a photographer can take charge of how they represent themselves. For Berg and Høeg, photography was more than a technique – it was a free space that created an intimate public sphere. How can we use photography today to explore various forms of identity?
For the second year in a row, the juried Photography Day exhibition was open to participation from international photographers, and a total of 343 entries were received that in each their own way addressed this year’s theme. We received everything from personal stories and documentary projects to concept art. Many of the entries are full of joy and humour, while others are deeply serious and even alarming. The fact that this year’s Photography Day is a queer edition is also apparent in the entries themselves, and for the jury it has been highly educational to read through the various project descriptions and gain insight into the state of queer life globally.
The sixty-one photographers who are being shown this year at the Photography Day exhibition have been chosen because they explore gender identity in an intriguing way through the medium of photography. In addition, these photographers display an originality that sets them apart and that works well in standalone pieces. The fact that more photographers were selected for the exhibition than is customary says a good deal about the quality of this year’s entries. It feels entirely right that the juried exhibition has been expanded this year and that some of the entries have been afforded additional space in the exhibition gallery.
Asked to select three prize winners, the jury also chose this year to give six photographers an honourable mention.
Irina Werning, Argentina
The winning entry addresses the performative aspect and the theme of queerness in a colourful, amusing way without losing the serious undertones. The pictures have a documentary look but are clearly staged. This gives them a dual layer of performativity by virtue of the main person performing both in front of the camera and in front of a crowd in their hometown after going back there as a new version of themselves.
In the project description, the photographer asks why exactly it is that trans people are usually photographed inside private rooms. In the series Tam’s Comeback we get to see what happens when the non-binary dancer Tam, who currently resides in Argentina, travels for the first time back to their small hometown in Bolivia, ventures out into the street, and meets people. It is hard to not be infected by Tam’s joy and vibrancy just by looking at the pictures.
The contrasts between Tam and traditional smalltown life in Bolivia are significant, something that makes the pictures a perfect starting point to reflect on how being queer – despite also being a struggle against hidebound conservatism – is most of all just about wanting to be the person you are.
Irina Werning's speech:
Julieta Pestarino, Argentina
Portrait of unidentified person
Traditionally, portrait photography has been an indicator of status, something that entails that photo sessions in the past were in themselves a type of staging. By using archival material of unidentified people from the National Institute for Cultural Heritage in Ecuador, Pestarino has juxtaposed and reworked pictures of women and men in order to disrupt our expectations.
In one way, reducing people in this way is a drastic act. At the same time, the people in the pictures have already been anonymized by history. By giving the unidentified women the faces of men, the pictures explore how women and men have been represented throughout the history of photography. But they also make us think about how entrenched the ideas of gender roles still are in us.
Julieta Pestarino's speech:
Shia Conlon, Ireland/Finland
Sites of dreaming
Third place goes to a highly personal entry. The project began when the photographer had to decide whether he wanted to go through the Finnish health service’s rigid system of psychological testing – and perhaps even have to be sterilized – in order be offered hormonal therapy, or whether he wanted to go through the process alone without any medical assistance. Ultimately, he chose to embark on his personal journey of transformation outside of the health service.
Conlon began to document the process because it was important to create a photographical representation that shows how trans people are frequently forced to make gut-wrenching decisions because the laws make it difficult to receive help. This intimate and vulnerable entry chooses to show the private, quiet moments among Conlon’s friends rather spotlighting the dramatic events along the way. The project is warm and personal, and because the pictures are so low-key, they manage to put people front and centre of what far too often merely become political and academic debates.
Tommy Kha, USA
Return to Sender
Tommy Kha’s project Return to Sender is a photographical performance project based on a fairly simple premise. In each picture, the photographer lets himself be kissed – by strangers, friends, acquaintances, actors, boyfriends, and ex-boyfriends – without reciprocating the kiss. All the pictures were taken in the evening using a long exposure, something that requires that the sitters stay still for more than a mere moment. The kissers have thereby had the power to control how they are being represented in the pictures, even as the photographer himself seems passive. This passivity alludes to how gay Asian men are portrayed in popular culture, even as the title Return to Sender expressly rejects such portrayals. Given that it is Kha who is the one taking the pictures and staging the situations, he is ultimately the one who is in the position of power.
Jess Miley og Derek Sargent, Germany and Norway
The Grave Project (Skeiv Norge)
Over the past five years, these two photographers have collaborated on an artistic research project where they have explored historical personages who have influenced queer, non-conformist culture. The culmination of the research is always a pilgrimage to the graves of these people, as documented in video footage and photographs. Equal parts humorous and serious, the pictures endeavour to make an important point, namely that the queerness of these individuals has usually been airbrushed out of the historical narrative. The pictures therefore set up an alternative historical archive that hopefully can help change the way in which such people are referred to in the future.
Mona Ulriche Schanche, Norway
Not the best, but still good
The project manages to capture the essence of being a young photography student in search of meaning. Showing friends during select moments in the photographer’s life, the pictures work well in the nexus between reality and fantasy precisely because the snapshot technique makes it ambiguous whether any given situation has been staged or is real. The photographer herself says that the pictures largely deal with her own melancholy, even as they convey a burning desire for freedom.
Loreen Hinz, Germany
Executed in a pleasant and delicate fashion, the series alludes to classical painting both in its poses and its pictorial expression, without ever becoming trite. The key aspect of these pictures is the way they blur the model’s gender identity, even as the painterly style makes the photos corporeal and vulnerable.
Mirjam Stenevik, Norway
I’m coming out
Berlin is a place where most things are allowed, and the city is commonly seen as an oasis where people can be themselves. But there is also a simmering homophobia under the surface, and hate crimes are on the rise. Showing people in a city that is often described as a Mecca that queer people from around the globe seek out, Stenevik’s photos manage to take the pulse of the personal stories and of the diversity that queer communities represent.
Laura MA, France
Laura Ma’s pictures evince a hybrid style and seem to be full of contradictions. This is a good thing, because it does not seem to be a coincidence at all. Although they are traditional and relate to art history, they undoubtedly also belong to a digital era. They seem upon first glance to be commercial photographs, but upon a closer look their vulnerability and insecurity open up for reflecting on how difficult it is to relate to your own identity in a society on the edge of a social, cultural, and environmental crisis.
See the award ceremony here: