Roaming Queerness

Justin White

AP35, Louden

15 July 2014

Project 2.2

            I was very inspired by the works of Carrie Mae Weems and Kelli Connell for a variety of reasons; thus, I chose to emulate the style of Weems’ “Roaming” and Connell’s digitally created double exposures.

From “Roaming” (2006), Carrie Mae Weems

"Roaming Lake Merritt" (2014), Justin William

“Roaming Lake Merritt” (2014), Justin William

            Weems’ “Roaming” (2006) stood out to me for its representation of history and the evocation of human accomplishment, or rather, existence[1]. Weems photographed this project while in residency at the American Academy in Rome, using as her settings historical landmarks and other Italian cultural icons and wears a long, black dress as a way to insert her own presence in stark contrast to these ghostly images—she appears to be guiding the audience through time. The mere persistence of such landmarks and settings is in itself a ghostly presence of the past in a rapidly changing and increasingly technological culture. To an Italian looking at these photographs, they may see them as either everyday locations on their daily commute or represent their historical achievements and “Italian-ness.” In my own re-creation of these works, I chose to photograph myself as a ghost on Lake Merritt looking towards downtown Oakland. Being a new resident in this city, I took it upon myself to learn more about where I will be living, and found many cultural narratives about Oakland’s historical trajectory. There are shopping malls built on top of Native American burial grounds, and major redevelopment projects that are (and have in the past) resulting in rapid gentrification and demographic shifts. I wanted to act as a ghost guiding the viewer to a place that has undergone major transformations in Oakland. Lake Merritt itself can act as a ghost of the former estuary of the San Francisco Bay that it was before development of the area. Downtown Oakland’s architecture can represent what Weems discusses as the “edifice of power,” and its relationship to you especially in the context of redevelopment and gentrification (in the video posted on Frists’ website).

“Domestic Distance,” (2005-2006) Kelli Connell

"Navigating Queerness" (2014), Justin William

“Navigating Queerness” (2014), Justin William

           While I did not spend as much time working on the concept or actual image for my emulation of Kelli Connell’s work, I wanted to explore ideas of queerness and sexuality as they intersect with gender, race, class, and other identifiers through a similar method of making a composite photograph creating a believable situation that has never occurred. The most challenging part of emulating this style with the concept in mind was that the concept itself—and queerness—are not binary focused. Instead, I had to attempt to typify the two extremes rather than accurately portray what I find to be my own definition of queerness. Duality, as Connell points out on her website, is present here but multiplicity is lost. In this sense, I think that Connell is right to posit that the nature of these photographs exposes the self as unsolidified within reality, but rather a composite of varying social roles and contextual codeswitching[2]. The symbolism of the cigarettes and clothes in the left portrait was a way to think about consumption and addition (of materials, objects) as ways in which we accrue certain roles and expectations for behaviors, such as masculinity. The book and the nude portrait was, on the other hand, to literally strip down these ideas and represent deconstruction as a vehicle for understanding a version of queerness. However, the book, my own tattoos, and posture show ways in which I willingly enter into a community of “queer culture” through these similar kinds of consumption and additions.

[1] From [].



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