This story has been updated.
There’s the photo titled “Jeffrey C. Williams,” which captures its half-dressed subject in the middle of whipping his hair, his eyes fixed on the camera. It is a pose that is seductive, playful and warm all at once. The space is lived-in; the gaze, familiar.
For Grier and other Black queer photographers, the aims of these photographs are myriad: They are a reflection of personal desires; an act of resistance; an archive of lives that were, for many years, forced underground.
The Washington Post asked three photographers to share Black queer love through their eyes. Here are their images and what they had to say. (Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)
I stumbled across my understanding of Black queerness through my interaction with the art world. I fear that, with there being hyper-visibility around Black queerness currently, sometimes we forget about places like the north end of Hartford, Conn., and we forget about the less visible Black gay folks, who do not live in progressive communities, who may not be privy to some of those ways of existing.
I have a photo called “More Gay Love in The Hood.” I thought about some of the most visible gay Black men that I grew up seeing — I wanted to focus on those people. That was more interesting to me, to shed a light on the undocumented; the rawness and beauty of Black gay life.
When I think about Black queer or Black gay love, I think about breathing together, trust, being able to have some support. Sharing space and intimacy. I think about when I lived in Brooklyn, where it was a very queer space. My roommates and I would drink tea in the morning, smoke, and then we’d go out to the backyard and just sunbathe and talk and listen to music. It was a routine that I really appreciated: being able to have conversations around mental health, love, sexual experiences and food.
The public and private display of intimacy, partnership and lust between Black queer people is an act of resistance. We live in a heteronormative, transphobic, puritanical, white-supremacist society hellbent on hiding us away and shaming us for what we came into this world carrying: our race, our sexual orientation and our gender or lack thereof. Our personhood is politicized as soon as we proclaim who we are.
When you’re taught to hate yourself and hide who you really are, when you’re scared and targeted, even self-love is a defiance. Expressing affection and love for each other, private moments of tenderness, romantic and platonic intimacy … it’s all a demand for freedom when you’re Black and queer.
My portrait and documentary project, AMERICAN WOMAN, explores the relationship we have as Black women with a country that loves our labor but doesn’t prioritize our well being. But as a Black queer woman, it’s also important for me to expand the archive of Black Sapphic love specifically. There truly isn’t enough of it — Black lesbians, queer women and femmes and our relationships with each other aren’t often enough centered or celebrated, even in the LGBTQ+ community.
There’s nothing comparable to the way Black women and femmes love on each other, be it platonic or romantic, and I wanted to capture the beauty, the tenderness and the eroticism of that. I couldn’t find anything quite like it.
I hope it in some way inspires more photography featuring Black Sapphic love. I certainly plan to continue.
When I think of Black queer love, I think of how beautifully universal it can be. I think of the warm, safe sensation I feel when my trans siblings hold me during hard times. The infectious smiles of my creative community when we come together and forge something magical. I think of the unimaginable resilience of my community and the powerful way we love with no bounds despite the odds that are stacked against us. We still respond with an unlimited source of love. It’s a beautiful place of communion where I feel free and open to be vulnerable with others who make me feel seen.
So much can be learned from the radical ways Black queer people express love and intimacy. It can be a light in the dark for guidance, a tool for revolution or a bridge that connects so many communities.
However, not every act is as public. There are also acts of love that we honor privately as well. Sometimes through mourning, other times through celebrating personal victories. Each side of the spectrum is extremely valuable for all phases of life. It helps us to heal, move forward, understand one another and understand ourselves and encourages fresh perspective away from patriarchal norms.
Photographers aren’t just storytellers, we are historians as well. Documenting and archiving the history of Black queer love is important to know of our existence in this world. In a world where we are immediately born into opposition, it is important to remember who we are, where we come from, the ways we love and the ways we can come together as a community. It’s my duty as a photographer to tell authentic stories of our life so that we have an accurate archive of our history.
Photo editing by Monique Woo. Design editing by María Alconada Brooks. Editing by Zachary Pincus-Roth.
Jeremy Grier is a photographer whose work and practice fits into the lineage of portraiture, while exploring the beauty and subtleties of Blackness in his world. He has shot client work for the North Face, Reebok - Pyer Moss, Chromat and the Highline and has been featured in various publications, including Fashionista.com, Broccoli Mag, 10 Men Magazine and Vogue.
sarah huny young is an award-winning photographer and visual artist primarily documenting and exalting Black womanhood and queer communities through portraiture and video. Framing her subjects as collaborators, she often shoots on location across the country in personal, intimate spaces of the subject’s choosing. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, ESPN, Pittsburgh City Paper, the Verge and more.
Liam Woods is a trans and nonbinary image maker based out of Los Angeles. Their work is characterized by the vulnerable, candidly intimate storytelling of queer people, people of color and other marginalized communities. Woods has partnered with brands such as Apple, Adidas and Warby Parker. They have also shot for publications such as People, Vogue Paris, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Cosmopolitan, and Playgirl.
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