I’ve been reflecting a lot about the values and ethics of my business lately, and it made me realise that queerness and my own queer identity has massively influenced the kind of photographer I am.
As a transgender, asexual person in a polyamorous relationship, queerness plays a big role in my life. For me though, it encompasses more than just gender and sexuality. I view queerness as a rejection of various societal norms and conventions. It means celebrating bodies in all their variations, embracing a more ethical approach to work and business, and searching for ways to raise other people up. It also carries with it a deep sense of community and shared experience.
When I started out as a photographer, I decided that I wanted these principles to inform my professional and artistic practice.
For a start, I want all my portraits to be body-positive and empowering. The photography industry relies upon outdated beauty standards, where models are often white, cis and skinny. This norm needs to be challenged and subverted. When I was still in the early stages of becoming a photographer, I decided that I wanted to work with as many people as possible who don't ordinarily get to see themselves represented on camera.
It’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time working towards and thinking about. One year ago my website felt like a very white space; I’m really glad to say that I’ve spent the past year making sure I create more opportunities for people of colour within my own photography projects. Personally though I think I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making my practice more diverse, and in particular I’d like to ensure I’m representing a wider range of body types in my portrait work.
In addition to that, I want to ensure that whenever I hold a photoshoot I am creating a space where my clients feel comfortable and safe from judgement. Being in front of a camera can often feel like an awkward or even scary experience, especially if you have a complex relationship to your body – and I think a lot of us do! With this in mind, I’ve developed a style which I believe allows people to relax into the session; I start all my photoshoots with a consultation, which usually just involves sitting and chatting for half an hour or so! On a personal level it’s really nice to get know my clients more (I’ve made some great friends this way!) and it also helps put everyone at ease.
I also love using my photography as a space to celebrate queer identities. I am always, always, always open to enquiries from the Queer/LGBTQ community – in fact it’s where most of my bookings come from! Celebrating queer identities brings me so much joy, and I love it when I get the chance to make this part of my work. To this end I run the Bristol Trans Portraits project, and outside of that I try to ensure that I work with as many queer folks as I can! Something I’d really like to do more of is queer and same-sex weddings – I have a few lined up for the summer, and I absolutely can’t wait for them!
When it comes to embracing a more ethical approach to work and business, I’ve decided that I will never turn anyone away for lack of funds. I run reduced rate pricing structures for those on low-income, and if my reduced prices are still too high I'm always happy to chat about non-monetary forms of payment (eg. a skill swap, or free modelling in exchange for free photography). Everyone should be able to access empowering photography, regardless of income.
Last, I think my queerness prompts me to think about ethics a lot more than perhaps the average photographer might. I think there are a lot of ethical issues in photography that, as freelancers, we don’t really discuss – whether through lack of opportunity (because we’re often working on our own) or through lack of consideration. Street photography is a great example of this. It’s very popular among both amateur and professional photographers, yet I don’t see too many stopping to discuss whether it’s particularly ethical to take a photo of someone without their consent and then post it online. On a few occasions when I have raised concerns about it, I have actually been shouted down.
Street photography is just one example, but I find myself thinking about issues like this more and more frequently. Ethics in photography is a huge topic, and I can’t really hope to cover it properly here. I do think it’s important to talk about though, so I intend to start a separate, small blog series about photography ethics. Keep an eye on my website and social channels for that if you’re interested – I’m hoping to have the first post out at some point in the next month!
It’s been pretty nice to reflect on the role that queerness plays in my photography (and life!), and it’s something I’d like to keep in mind as I continue to grow as a photographer. Relatedly, I’m planning to start up Bristol Trans Portraits again very soon! I’ll be launching a shiny new instagram feed especially for the project in about a week’s time, so don’t forget to follow me if you want to keep up to date with that!
In the meantime, I’ll also be attending this symposium on Inclusion and Diversity in Photography on Friday, hosted by Bristol Photo Festival. It sounds like it’s going to be wicked interesting, so let me know in the comments below if you’re going too!