On Studio – On Portraiture: October 2013 [statement for Portraiture at Studio Gallery in Washington, DC, 2013] I don’t shoot people. Instead I use the camera as a means to understand and explore spatial environments and encounters. Yet when my good friend and grad school classmate Ryan Conrad invited me to collaborate on a studio shoot with him, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
To say that Conrad is one of those folks who challenges you might be a pretty big understatement. Initially one might be a bit confused by how someone so dedicated to racial and economic justice could also be so critical of politics that most liberal/left-learning people embrace. But when you spend some time listening to him break down his ideas (and he does so in the most accessible, non-academic way possible), you begin to realize that they do make sense and that many mainstream liberal policies actually often do further marginalize people creating even greater injustices.
In 2008, frustrated with the poorly run, classist gay marriage campaign in his hometown of rural Maine (a campaign that pulled desperately-needed funds and resources away from organizations that were most beneficial to the local queer communities), Conrad co-founded Against Equality. Collectively run, Against Equality archives and publishes queer critiques of mainstream gay politics, specifically around the politics of inclusion. The online archive is currently focused on critiques of gay marriage; the military and the reversal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; and the Prison Industrial Complex, especially around the expansion of hate crime legislation.
Fast-forward several years to 2012, and now Conrad and I are back at Maine College of Art for a five-week alumni residency. We have moved into our studios just mere feet away from where we first worked together during our first summer of grad school. Conrad’s work, specifically with Against Equality, has gathered a lot of attention. He’s received messages of gratitude from people, who also dream for the spaces beyond institutional inclusion, thanking him for connecting them with other like-minded folks. And he’s received more than his fair share of hate mail, including numerous death threats.
Dirty Queer Magazine, an arts and culture print magazine in Australia, has contacted him for an interview, and that’s where I come in. For the interview spread, we decide that I would photograph the staging – and the eventual destruction – of his own gay wedding. In the interview, he writes: “My wedding ceremony was created in jest and photographed just for Dirty Queer! Against Equality’s structural critique is often taken personally, and I’ve found myself referred to as ‘the guy who hates people who get gay married’, a mean, wedding-crashing, hypersexual faggot. As if I’m going to show up and destroy their wedding ceremony, or even personally care about whether or not they get married? It’s all quite ridiculous, so I decided to take these projected fears to an absurd degree.”
Thus, on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July, we set up in the photo studio for the wedding. Like many weddings, we run into some last-minute “disasters” as our specially ordered groom and groom wedding cake topper has not arrived in time. But we quickly improvise with two Ken dolls (which turn out to be so much better anyways). With The Flirts as our soundtrack, Conrad changes his Facebook status to “Married” and the festivities begin.
Four of the photographs from the shoot were published in Dirty Queer along with the interview. Variations of three of those images are included in this sequence here. The fourth image, the one of just Conrad looking at the camera, is an outtake from the shoot. I remember taking that shot. I remember thinking that many years from now, I will look back to this precise moment. Above all else, I remember being so grateful for our friendship. I’ve certainly had that feeling many times before and after, but there is something about having the camera there, about the intimacy of photographing someone. It’s the photo that makes me slightly envious of photographers who do shoot people.
Conrad is an outlaw artist, terrorist academic, and petty thief who divides his time between Maine and Montreal. He has recently edited Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion, an anthology of writings from the archives, which will be published by AK Press in March 2014.