I am currently developing a project, #Instagay, which involves creating images and conducting interviews of queer people to catalog the ways in which queer people are choosing to present themselves in digital public spaces. From a historical perspective, the photographs we are exposed to have been largely made by straight, white men. Images that circulate in mass media tell us what photographs should look like, what beauty is, and what identities are available for us to choose from. However, those paradigms are shifting. No longer is the creation and dissemination of photography into mass media and culture controlled by a small group of people. With the advent of smartphones and platforms like Facebook and Instagram, photography has been truly democratized in that the vast majority of people have a camera on them at all times and are in control of what images are made, who is represented in those photographs, and how they are represented. For #Instagay, I am specifically focusing on how the queer community is choosing to present themselves on Instagram now that we have the power to control our own photographic representation.
To create this work I have built a custom iPhone app that constantly searches Instagram for images with geo-locations and any popular queer hashtag like #instagay, #instaqueer, #scruffy, #genderfluid, #trans, #femme, #nonbinary, and #queer. The app cross-references my iPhone’s geo-location to all of these images in real time and notifies me when someone on Instagram posts an image with a queer hashtag that is located within a 10-mile radius of my location. As soon as I am alerted, I write the person to ask if I can meet them immediately for a recorded interview and a photograph. When I arrive, we talk about what it means to out oneself as queer with a hashtag and how they desire to be represented in digital public spaces. Ultimately my goal is to ask the question: Can self-imaging in digital public spaces be a radical act to destabilize normative ideologies? Based on our conversation, we then work together to create an image of them for their Instagram feed. When I return home I listen to our conversation and pick 50 or so portraits to send them. They then choose the image I will use for the series by posting it to their Instagram. The final Images will be large-scale photographs with a sound piece that weaves together all of the interviews. For each image I am also creating custom-built, 3d printed, gold leaf cassetta style frames. Each frame will reference the images themselves and the history of queer minimalism.