6 Photographers That Capture The Indian Queer Community Beautifully - Homegrown

6 Photographers That Capture The Indian Queer Community Beautifully

In a society where misconstrued notions of queerness as an affliction, disease or perversion prevails, there is only one way to chip away at these archaic ideas— representation. We need it in film, books, media, theatre, and of course, all mediums of art. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so the power of photography to change narratives and discourses around queerness is monumental.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”, says iconic documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. Here’s a list of progressive photographers who through their works have helped us better see and understand the experiences and realities of queer people in India. Their striking photographs remain in our consciousness and memory, an acknowledgement of the breaking of arbitrary labels and binaries.

I. Sunil Gupta

A popular name in the photography world, Sunil Gupta is an artist, curator and activist and has been capturing the realities of queer people since the 19870’s. Back then, he made a photo series of queer folk in Delhi around the city’s various monuments titled “Exiles”in 1980. In his series Mr Malhotra’s Party in 2008, he wished to mark the slow, yet sure development of lgbtqia+ rights in the country with a celebratory photo series of out and proud citizens. He tells Himal South Asian, “It (the series) gave me a chance to illustrate the public spaces queer people inhabit in New Delhi, and the everyday quality of these situations; people were not hiding somewhere in a park or a monument as they had been in Exiles.” Gupta is also known to explore the space occupied by queer brown folk, exploring aspects of race and migration as he captured queer Indian communities in places like Montreal and London. He has also captured his personal journey and reflections as a queer man with HIV going back to India in the series ‘Homeland’.

Explore his work through his website.

Source: Sunil Gupta's series "Friends & Lovers: Coming Out in Montréal in the 1970s"
Source: Sunil Gupta's series "Friends & Lovers: Coming Out in Montréal in the 1970s"

II. Charan Singh

Charan Singh is a photographer who is currently a Phd candidate in Photography at the Royal College of Art, London. He explores themes such as gender, sexuality, memory,loss and trauma through his work. Singh is the creator of ‘Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others’ ,an ongoing photo-series started in 2013, which aims to capture the queer working-class beyond the common HIV/Aids victim narratives. “The photographs give their subjects an importance which contradicts the popular image of people from these social backgrounds. They also challenge the supremacy of images of the more middle and upper caste/class person from India, that we are normally used to seeing in the history of photography.” He writes on his website. Another ongoing series is “Queering Bollywood”, a reimagination of elements of the film industry we know and love, by creating spaces for queer identity within it.

Explore his work through his website.

Source: Charan Singh's Series "Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others,"
Source: Charan Singh's Series "Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others,"

III. Pulkit Mogha

Pulkit Mogha’s experiences as a young queer boy, as well as his navigation through ideas of gender, stereotypes and race have shaped the work he does today. He tells us, “I like to explore and document queer subcultures. I have always been fascinated by cruising for example, so I took up to gay cruising in alleyways and parks around trans-Yamuna Delhi and made a photo essay around it. I had an HIV positive partner which led me to explore the desires and vulnerabilities of other couples and individuals. My own experiences informed ideas on what I wanted to capture,” Despite facing multiple hurdles like censorship, assault and cyber harassment, Mogha strives on to push society’s limits for the sake of representation and inclusivity.

Explore his work through his Instagram.

Source: Pulkit Mogha's Instagram
Source: Pulkit Mogha's Instagram

IV. Shilpa Raj

Shilpa Raj’s entry into the photography world came with her ground-breaking photo-series, “The Sacred Third-Transform.” She wished to explore the elements of mythology which recognised non-binary gender identities, to show society how they have always held a sacred space. “Stories of mythology all through the ages, cultures and epics tell tales of Transgender and Intersex (T&I) people being part of the society. One can’t help but wonder if these stories told for us all to accept their existence and acknowledge them as part of our world.” She tells The Alternative. She approached transgender and intersex Indians to model as various mythological characters from greek, roman, and Hindu mythology, such as Dionysus and Ardhanarishvara.

You can view photos from the collection through her article on The Alternative.

Source: The Alternative
Source: The Alternative

V. Soumya Sankar Bose

Bose is popularly known for capturing Jatra artists in his series “Let’s Sing An Old Song”, but he’s also created a beautiful series called ‘Full Moon On A Dark Night’ narrating the journeys of Indians’ mind scapes over their gender and sexual identities. Bose acquaints himself to those whom he photographs, calling them ‘collaborators’, in an attempt to ‘understand their psyches and visualise their vulnerabilities’. Through his series he wishes to capture ordinary queer citizens, beyond the activists and icons, and their hopes and dreams for an inclusive India. He comments to Scroll about a particular image of two men about to share a kiss in Kolkata, he says, “One is a cobbler and his partner is a junior artist and they don’t even know the literal meaning of LGBTQ. They don’t understand why a group of people walk with a rainbow-coloured flag. They just want to be like women and hope that someday someone will marry them. They posed for me not because I am working on a project related to the LGBTQ community, but because I’m a friend.”

Explore his work through his website.

Source: Sowmya Sankar Bose's Series " Full Moon On A Dark Night"
Source: Sowmya Sankar Bose's Series " Full Moon On A Dark Night"

VI. Indu Antony

Indu Antony is a firebrand photographer working with themes around rape and justice, feminism, body positivity and more. The Toto photography awardee has worked closely with the Transgender community in her series ‘Beauty In The Blur’, to try to document the trans bodies as ‘ sites of appreciation and not unfulfilled change’, dislodging them from the narrow understand we tend to have. She has also undertaken projects like ‘Manifest’, which captured twelve queer women from Bangalore as they took to the streets to explore androgyny by inhabiting male characters, from a policeman and fighter pilot to Michael Jackson and Quick Gun Murugun. Antony engages with queerness and fluidity with openness and honesty, attempting to capture people for who they really are instead of diluting them down to fit societal norms.

Explore her work through her website and instagram.

Source: Indu Antony's Series "Beauty In A Blur"
Source: Indu Antony's Series "Beauty In A Blur"

VII. Soham Gupta

Soham Gupta’s Blue Flower is a collection of black-and-white images of trans women in Kolkata. Much like an earlier photo-series we carried, Dayanita Singh’s Myself Mona Ahmed, Gupta’s work too, was born out of a chance incident that turned into a friendship and chronicles a more empathetic side of the city’s transgender community. One of the most tender aspects of his work that reveal the lack of divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are the question cards Gupta provides his subjects with, and their telling answers. There is great tenderness in the Blue Flower images. These trans women have allowed him to not only enter their lives, but intimately document them too. He has earned their trust and they seem to willingly pose for him: playful, shy, happy, free, sultry, and often, mysterious. And while it’s the mystery that draws you in, it’s the dull ache of longing that stays with you long after.

Source: Homegrown/Soham Gupta
Source: Homegrown/Soham Gupta

Feature image courtesy of Soham Gupta (L) and Charan Singh (R)

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