What does queer love look like across the globe?

Although they live on opposite sides of the globe, J. Davies, of the First Nations (Maori) of Melbourne, and Florian Hetz of Berlin share a bond: photography. Although different in their approach and technique, both are interested in the intimacy of the human body and the form and emotion it creates.

For the past few months, Hetz has worked as a mentor to Davies (a term Hetz is hesitant to use – he sees it more as a collaboration), made possible through PHOTO 2022, an International Photography Festival that runs from April through May (with some shows running into June) at various venues around Melbourne. Through numerous Zoom calls, around the world but face to face, the two shared their photographic processes, their lives, their interests and their goals as artists.

While Florian is quite particular, constructing scenes in line with his own vision and in a world comfortable with the notion of nudity, Davies’ approach is more organic, letting his subjects re-enact intimate moments in spaces where they feel comfortable, in a country (Australia) where many, says Davies, are still not sensitive to the concept of nudity.

To see how their lives and photography differ while sitting somewhat on the same wave, VICE joined the two in a conversation to talk about activism in photography, cultural differences, and photographing people in intimate spaces and often naked.

VICE: Going through your two photographs, there’s this focus on intimacy, the human body, and those pretty sensual moments. Given that you come from different parts of the world, how do you think this affects the meaning of your content?

J. Davies: We briefly touched on this, but the way sexuality and queer sexuality are viewed in Australia is quite different from that in Europe. So from my perspective, working in the intimacy areas was a time to really learn. The idea is that I try to work on ingrained shame and stigma and work on bodies and people we haven’t seen celebrated. So that’s one of the things that’s different between us.

Florian Hetz: I have a different approach. The idea of ​​intimacy is really normal. I don’t think about stigma at all, actually. I come from a place where I grew up, living in Berlin, everything is very free and open. And I’m not just talking about sexuality but generally there’s a positivity around the body and the grounded nudity. So it’s more normal. I don’t document, I reproduce what surrounds me without having to work on it. My journey is really part of my photography.

Why do you think this differs so much between cultures and how does this affect your approach to identity and sexuality?

Hez: In the early 1900s, there was this whole body positivity movement, body culture, being outdoors, working naked. It was part of our culture – while I think [Davies’] context in terms of religion is a bit stricter. It has a similarity to UK or USA. For us, it’s completely normal to see our parents naked. Whereas here it’s completely different, you go to a sauna and you have to wear clothes, it doesn’t make sense to me.

Davis: I also think there is a huge difference because there is so much going on between all the cities in Europe. People move all the time, people see new things, people are pushed to think things differently. And I don’t think it’s the same here again.

As an artist who has worked in Melbourne – and Melbourne is certainly one of the most progressive cities in this country – I still don’t think there’s an understanding or comfort for the things that make people feel bad. comfortable.

As soon as people encounter discomfort, it is ridiculed. People are not pushed to think about it any differently. There’s not as much desire to understand others: queer people, marginalized people, people of color. We try to have our own stories, but it’s not celebrated like in other parts of the world.

Hez: Do you think this is still the case? Do you think these groups of people are becoming more visible or do you think it’s stagnating?

Davis: I think the general conversation is changing a lot more than before, and I think there’s more queer people, there’s more indigenous people, there’s more people with disabilities who have platforms than they don’t have never used either. We snuck out to get people to listen to us more.

Hez: Do you consider your work to be part of activism?

Davis: I would never say that, but I guess the same way being trans is political, pushing against the grain is making a statement so, yeah. But I wouldn’t say I’m doing it in the hope of sparking a revolution.

Hez: In the sense that it’s political, like you’re really clear about what you show and what you don’t. And so he opens it up to society. So I think, for me, technically, that’s part of activism. It’s important to show our lives as well to confront people, which is a good thing.

Florian, have you ever had the impression that your work could be seen from an activist point of view?

Floriane: I think it’s similar to J. I do a lot of activist work for different things but I don’t necessarily see it in my photos. Every once in a while, I’ll get a response on Instagram from someone in Iran or Pakistan, thanking me and saying, “Thank you for showing us that it’s possible. It gives us hope”. So in that way, it’s a tiny bit of activism.

It’s a good reminder that we don’t just work in our little bubble, in Europe or Australia, but around the world through digital media. So in that sense, I think there’s always activism in our work.

As for the actual process pictures. You both film in incredibly intimate settings. How do you conceptualize the session with your subject upstream? And how do you approach people to get involved?

Hez: For my part, I am lucky to only work with people who come to me and not the other way around. I need someone to get an idea of ​​what I do or what my job is. Then the next step for me is that I want to meet that person in a neutral space. The people I work with are not models, they are real people. So most of them haven’t been on camera, so there’s a lot of nervousness. I give them space to ask questions.

Lots of laughs, nothing too serious. It sounds stupid to say but in the end, we take pictures, it does not cure cancer. I’m pretty specific with what I see and what I want and there’s not a lot of movement, there’s not a lot of room for the models to express themselves. But it’s my process.

Davis: I guess I’m very different from Florian. Much of my process is trial and error. I always try to find out what ultimately makes me and the person I work with comfortable, because I am a socially anxious or socially awkward person. So a big part of how I prepare is making sure the person knows that I’m also nervous about it. And then I always suggest the person find outfits or underwear or something that makes them look sexy. It’s a good start to feeling confident.

So you are quite different.

J, do you capture the personality while Florian is more precise?

Davis: Yes, I started photographing nudes and bodies about 10 years ago. And then I stopped for a long time. So I would say that I have been working like this for three years now. My whole perspective has changed. I never used to shoot people in the house. Now it’s in people’s bedrooms, their safe spaces, their bathrooms, their shared homes.

A big part of my way of working is learning about intimacy, as well as intimate spaces and how people behave when they feel comfortable. It’s a big part of what makes up the job. I mainly only photograph people I have known for a while, good friends, friends of friends or lovers. People with whom I already have established relationships.

Looking back – and also looking to the future and thinking about your separate works – how do you hope audiences will react to it? Or is it less about the audience and more about what it means to you?

Floriane: I think my work speaks for itself. I am my main audience. Everything I do, I do it for me and if I’m happy about it and I put it out into the world, then the reaction isn’t that it doesn’t matter, we’re all happy if things are well received, but if someone isn’t happy, I’m not broken at all.

I hope that in 50 years my work will still be relevant.

J. Davies: Last year I had a very hectic accident at work and almost died, but I had to undergo facial reconstructive surgery and was recovering. I remember my mother asking me what would happen to my image archive if I died and I hadn’t really thought about it before. It was kind of a wake-up call.

The archives are huge. I’ve pretty carefully archived my life for a few years now, but the idea that the pictures wouldn’t be seen because no one could access them was the thing where I was like “Oh shit”, I want people who want see it to see it.

If people can connect to it from the other side of the world, I want people to see it. Even though I don’t think I’m trying to stand for a certain thing, a lot of my work is about connection and community, so even if I were dead I would still want it to be about connection and community. community, however way that would work.

Work by J. Davies and Florian Hetz will be featured at the 2022 PHOTO International Photography Festival, April 29-May 22, with select exhibitions extending through June in Melbourne and greater Victoria.

The exhibition Haut by Florian Hetz in Augmented Reality will be presented at the Angel Music Bar until Sunday, May 29.

J. Davies’ work is part of the PHOTO 2022 exhibition ‘Queering The Frame: Community Time Photography’ which runs until June 12 at the Center for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne.

Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

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