The book edited by Benjamin Wolbergs, collects the work of fifty-two photographers from all over the world, focusing on bodies and intimate queerness
New Queer Photography
Bodies as they are: playground for human experience, landscapes, and nature. New Queer Photography, book edited by art director Benjamin Wolbergs, published by Verlag Kettler, uncovers queer bodies in domestic portraits, intertwined or solo-standing, against skies and seas, exploring the power and joy of diversity. «The idea came to my mind about four years ago when I was working for the publishing house Taschen on the layout of a book about physique photography with photos from the Fifties, whose aesthetics and visual worlds were intended to appeal to a gay audience. In the course of this work, I asked myself: what would a book with contemporary queer photography look like? ». Wolbergs designs art books for publishers worldwide. New Queer Photography came as a side project, «I was bored and frustrated by the queer visual representation in most media whether it is in print, online or tv. The focus is still often on white muscled cisgender men, even in publications that are directly referring to queerness. It was long overdue to contribute a more diverse and inclusive visual representation». It took more than three years of research, hundreds of photo portfolios reviewed to come up with the fifty-two photographers. Most of the talent-hunting came from books and magazines but also social media: «I was scrolling through art, photography and LGBTQI+ related blogs and webpages. One link brought me to another, and it was an almost endless pool». Wolbergs’ project was deemed interesting but too explicit by publishers: «I have been working as an art director for art book publishers around the world for more than ten years and I have witnessed first-hand over the years how the market for high-quality photography books is gradually collapsing. Publishing photo books that are not pre-financed has become a financial risk, especially for smaller and independent publishers. And then I came around the corner with a photography project that clearly did not appeal to a mass market», explained the editor.
Florian Hetz and Matt Lambert photographs
Wolbergs’ research started with the discovery of Florian Hetz and Matt Lambert, two of the fifty-two photographers featured in the book. Lambert’s work shares collages of intimacy and sex taken from a fanzine and short film project ‘Pleasure park’, whereas Hetz focused on a close look on bodies and how they are distorted, showing ripples, body hair and other features far from ordinary. « I wanted to present as many different photographers, themes, and queer imaginary worlds as possible, trusting my intuitions more than dogmatic approaches. A focal point was also the artistic aspect of the works». The final selection has taken into account diverse countries and experiences, making New Queer Photography a collection of queer beauty and diversity around the world.
Lampoon talks to Benjamin Wolbergs
Every photographer featured in the book is focusing on unconventional stories, bodies and narratives. ‘Margins’ is the key concept of Wolbergs’ collection: «The subtitle of the book ‘Focus on the margins’ is a specific lens for all the photographers in New Queer Photography which holds everything together. It is a summary of all the stories and images that you can discover in the book». Margins is the opposite of mainstream – as Wolbergs’ explained too often queerness is represented through the standard lens of the white-male-cis person – but living and working on the margins has a double value: «It means both dealing with injustice, discrimination and oppression but I am also talking about pure joy, self-presentation, pride, solidarity and empowerment that you can experience on the margins». The spirit of New Queer Photography is the empowerment of the bodies depicted. The bodies of Red Rubber Road and Mark Mcknight come from another dimension, half-cut, beheaded, immersed, and blended in the nature. The same goes with Kostis Fokas unknown bodies against a bright, clouded blue sky, as well as the dreamy and sensual portraits of Alexandre Haefeli. Bodies and metamorphosis are also a frequent theme in the book. The series of photographs of Laurence Philomène talk about gender transition – we become aware of this with the first picture showing the artist taking an injection on his thigh. These self-portraits reveal the emotional spectrum of the photographer through the accurate choice of the general mood of the pictures. Pink, green, red, purple, yellow may communicate joy and melancholia all at once.
Meaning of Queer
Queer and LGBT visuals from the past are often dispersed in fanzines, self-produced magazines and, sometimes, closed up in drawers. Over time identities have evolved, met with a more welcoming environment, but being queer today still retains the same revolutionary meaning. Queer is a fluid term, it is not easy to frame it with words – photography seem to explain it better: «Queer can be a concept of life, but also a certain attitude or subversive action», said Wolbergs. «I personally, and especially in the context of my book, see queer as an inclusive umbrella term, that covers anybody with a non-heteronormative lifestyle». The book has a dedication to ‘all LGBT people who are suffering’, some stories featured in it are tales of discrimination and injustice. In Wolbergs’ view Robin Hammond’s portraits are «some of the most obvious examples of people on the margins of society who are suffering and are discriminated against, oppressed, and attacked because of their sexuality and gender identity». Hammond’s project Where love is illegal features LGBTQI+ people from countries where same-sex love is criminalized and can lead to discrimination, physical and mental violence, imprisonment, torture, and even capital punishment. The same political layer is the one underlined in Laurence Rasti’s project, where bodies are hidden, identities closeted. The title There are no homosexual in Iran, took inspiration from the heinous speech of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, former president of the Republic of Iran. In A light inside, the story of Tamara unfolds: it involves different layers, a close look reveals her special relationship to the photographer Danielle Villasana – anticipated in the preface of the story – the discriminatory situation experiences by transgender sex workers in Peru. Tamara died of tuberculosis and the complications of Aids before she turned 30. In New Queer Photography we see pride, confusion, sensuality at their highest level of beauty. Still, many people are afraid of margins. At state and societal level, morality does not allow people to reckon their margins and respect them when they are noticed on the outside. Perhaps, this has to do with a need for an improved knowledge of sexuality and sensuality, surely with knowledge tout court, as stressed by Wolbergs: «I think it is like with most things that are unknown to people: they are afraid of things they do not know. That’s why we need to create visibility for any marginalised community».
Benjamin Wolbergs and New Queer Photography
Berlin based freelance art director he has designed books for publishing houses such as Taschen, Prestel, Distanz, Gestalten, Junius and Kettler. In 2021 he published his latest book, New Queer Photography, where he collected the work of fifty-two photographers from all over the world, focusing on bodies and intimate queerness.