What does it mean to be in love? Haven’t we all pondered that question at some point in our lives? Photographer Jake Naughton, along with his partner, Juan Anibal Sosa Iglesias, have spent the past few years trying to answer it through a unique photographic collaboration, resulting in the book, “When We Were Strangers.” (Red Hook Editions, 2019). What makes this photo book unique is that, instead of focusing on a relationship between a straight couple, it sets out to document one about a same-sex couple. As Naughton put it, “the book presents a close-up look at queer love, correcting a dearth in the record. Though there are more than a fair share of photo books about straight relationships, ones about queer people, living and loving, are rare.”
Naughton spoke to In Sight about the book and the project. He said:
"The pictures in the book encompass the beginning five years of a relationship, but more than that, the project, its images and writings became a way for us to piece together this journey we had embarked upon together. Juan and I met on OKCupid, when we were both 22 and before I was even a photographer. But, almost immediately, I started photographing Juan.
“The early pictures are as aimless and saccharine as you might imagine: our idiot smiles after the first time we had sex, close-up images of Juan’s face. But quickly, the project become a much more intentional and participatory way to work through what it meant to love someone else. George Saunders once said, “If you feel something, it’s worth making art about.” And although love is a feeling and experience more fraught with the risk of cliche than most, we thought a forthright and unvarnished look into our relationship could serve as a corrective to the one-dimensional and sentimental narratives that dominate the cultural consciousness about love.
“Though Juan and I are profoundly different people, we share a philosophy on love: It is work. It is hard. It is geologic in its aspirations, but minute in its practice. It is perhaps the most difficult and most essential project of our lives. And though Juan isn’t a photographer, he was involved at every step of the project, from encouraging me to make images of every part of our relationship, not just the happy moments, to taking some of the photos himself, to sequencing the book with me. It’s a collaboration in every sense.
“Taken as a whole, it is an honest and intimate look at this journey we’re on together, to understand and deconstruct love through the prism of our relationship. And though there are many projects about straight relationships, there is a dearth of ones about queer people living and loving, so our project is an attempt to correct that gap, and hopefully make space for other, more diverse expressions of love.”
Here’s a selection of images from the book.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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