Last October I was talking to my fiancée about yet another random idea I had. This time it was a vision that I wholeheartedly believed in. As a Black queer woman in Madison I started to notice that there wasn’t a lot of visual representation of Black love anywhere here, and I wanted to do something to celebrate that and to show that not only are there Black people here, but this is what Black love looks like, contrary to what the media and movies like to depict. I made a Facebook post saying I wanted to do a black and white photo-series of Black Love that focused on all “ships,” not just romantic, and that was inclusive to all identities. I asked if anyone would be interested in being a part of it and, surprisingly, I got a lot of interest. As things progressed, it turned into something even more meaningful and beautiful, thus was born Queer Black Love: A Photo-Series. It’s an ode and celebration to my queer Black friends in Madison and Milwaukee. This series represents Black trans folxs, different types of abled bodies, fat bodies, lesbians, two-mama households, gay men, married couples, engaged couples, couples who have to keep parts of theirselves hidden because they aren’t out to family yet as expressing their love for each other in different intimate ways. It really is near and dear to my heart, and as my first project I couldn’t have asked for a better set of muses. Being Black and queer in Madison you don’t see a lot of yourself in anything here outside of your own tribe—if you’re even lucky enough to find that. So, to be able to do this with my friends and folx I admire was an honor.
Once I calmed down from the shock of folx actually being interested and wanting to be a part of it, I asked my partner Duke, who is a professional photographer, if I could use her expensive camera, and if she wouldn’t mind assisting me (I really enjoyed the role reversal here lol). The process for getting the series together was a mixture of fun and challenge. A lot of the challenges I faced were in my own head; being confident in my vision, asking for help when I needed it, not doubting myself, and remembering to have fun with it.
Most of the muses are my friends and favorite couples; however, I did Instagram stalk one couple that I had never met before to ask them if they wanted to be in the series, and to my surprise they said YES! They are now in what I call my tribe. I then laid out a timeline of when I wanted to start scheduling shoots; got everyone scheduled about a week or two into November and was able to schedule all of my Milwaukee couples for the same weekend. By the end of December, I had everyone wrapped and was ready to start editing. Initially I wanted to have it completed by the end of the year, so we could kick off 2020 with some Blackity Black Black Joy, but the universe had better plans and made it to where we were able to end Black History Month with images of Queer Blackity Black Black Love instead.
Since this was my very first solo project, having complete creative control, and being the photographer, I made sure I was intentional on what and how I wanted to capture and portray intimacy within the project. Being obsessed with the way black and white photos evoke emotion and thoughts is why I chose to do the entire project that way. I wanted to capture intimacy in different forms not just the “regular” ways we usually see it. I didn’t always focus directly on faces, but instead showed hands touching, bodies intertwined, not showing faces of some because they couldn’t be shown, and little things like that.
Editing down the pictures was the hardest thing to do because there were so many I loved. Also, editing in general was the most tedious part of the process. I second-guessed myself so many times, I would do an edit and be happy with it ,and then step away just to come back and start over. It took me a good two-to-three weeks to be completely satisfied with everything. Once the series was complete, I knew I wanted to do a showing of some sort—something small and intimate with the muses and a few friends and family. Originally it was planned to have it at our apartment, but due to the amount of people who showed interest in wanting to see it, I had to enlist some outside help (shoutout to Patrick from Our Lives for connecting me with Warren at UW-Madison’s Gender and Sexuality Campus Center). I had about 12 canvas prints made from the series and had my very first Gallery event Queer Black Love: A Photo-Series hosted by The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center on February 28, 2020 where I sold 7 of 12 prints.
I had no idea the series and event would be received by the public so well, and I am beyond grateful and humbled to everyone that was involved, my muses, and especially to my love Duke V for always believing in me and all my many visions and ideas—and for affirming me when I was frustrated and wanted to throw the whole series away after things happened that were out of my control. I love you! I’m not really sure what I hope to do with the series next, but I think it serves as a great reminder that Queer Black Love is beautiful, it’s needed, it deserves to be seen and celebrated, and that we need more of it!