Queer community has felt like family my whole life. As the middle child of three queer kids in an eccentric Jewish family growing up in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas, the connection that we shared from not knowing anyone else quite like us kept us from feeling a little less alone.
I came out 4 years ago, at the age of 26, and it was around that time that I started seriously practicing photography. Discovering my queerness and photography at the same time felt pretty symbolic. I realized I was mostly drawn to capturing queerness on camera, in whatever form it presented itself in the image. Of course, queer photographers and documentarians have been doing this for decades – and I was excited to hop on the train. I was constantly intrigued by the question, “What is queerness?” Sure, it has to do with who you love and how you identify with yourself, but to me, it also encompasses who you are. Being seen is so central to both photography and queerness. Queerness needs to be seen, and photography is a tool for visibility. It’s a perfect pair.
In pre-pandemic days, you could find me creating portraits with beautiful Nashville queers or documenting some of the amazing new queer events like Pronoun Party and Bitchfit, which let us gather and express ourselves in community. Photographs of the events let the memories linger. Portraits of queer humans show us who’s out there and how they’re expressing themselves. Queerness doesn’t necessarily look, sound, or feel a certain way. Queerness exists within the queers. Documenting queerness on camera explores that.
All of a sudden we’re in the midst of a pandemic and shut away in our homes. How can we be seen? How can we express ourselves creatively and in community as queer beings just by being who we are, where we are? How could I maintain connection with photography from a distance? The answer came to me during one of my Shelby Park walks (a personal essential during quarantine). It seemed obvious. If family photographers could take pandemic porch portraits, why couldn’t I do the same for our Nashville queers?
Y’all showed UP, and the project ended up meaning more to me, and hopefully to y’all, then I could’ve imagined. Each participant brings their own spin to the project. Whether they have an elaborate setup or outfit, or are just chilling on their porch, each shoot is a complete gem all its own and gives a glimpse into the life and vibe of a unique and beautiful member of our queer community.
My goal with the project was to provide visibility and connection during a time of isolation. I think the goal has been achieved in multiple ways. It provides connection to me, personally, with the participants during our shoot. It provides connection to those viewing the photos and seeing just how many amazing queers are in Nashville, and it provides connection to those who want to reach out and connect to the participants as a new friend or future collaborator. Each photo is accompanied by a short feature on the participants, so we can be aware of who’s out there, what they’re doing, and how we can support them.
I heard many similar themes from the people I’ve been shooting: This was the first time they put on *real* clothes in weeks (confession: I still haven’t. I show up to the shoots in pajamas, basically). This was the first time they saw another person in days. They had no idea all these awesome people lived in Nashville. One person even told me that the project encouraged their friend to consider moving to Nashville when before they doubted there was enough of a queer community.
Hopefully this project shines a light on queerness in Nashville in all its beauty and uniqueness, especially during this specifically weird time. Whatever the project means to you, even if it’s different than what it means to me – I hope that meaning brings you joy and connection.
Hopefully it gives you a sense of family. We’re here during the pandemic, and we’ll be here when it ends.
(Footnotes: It was almost impossible to choose a selection of photos to feature here. I encourage everyone to follow along with the full set at @emdashphotos, which is updated daily. Also, for anyone who wants to participate, I plan on continuing the project while we’re still in some form of quarantine. Shoots are free and are available to anyone within the Nashville area.)