The first week of this project was like taking a leap off a cliff without knowing what was below. I had no previous experience going to or photographing gay bars. I first began shooting this project in late June of 2012, aka Toronto PRIDE. It was unhinged. People took the whole week off so that they could rip it up without real life kicking them in the ass the following morning. Everything about Pride is taken to the extreme. More people, bigger venues, bigger shows, more drugs, less clothes and extended bar hours. It's a massive international event. The boys I was following had Pride 2012 in their sights as their all-out, go-hard Pride. It was a culture shock for me.
I didn't know what I was shooting or how this story was going to come together, so I shot everything. Shooting in dark nightclubs is a pain in the ass. The captivating, flashing lights make the chance of getting a proper exposure about the same as a five year-old hitting the baseball in his first little league game. Tons of misses peppered with a couple lucky hits. Focusing had an even worse percentage of success. These are things you get a feel for, and find ways of fixing. I swear to god, I almost brought a flashlight rigged to my camera into the club to help me focus as well as entrench myself as one of the oddballs in a scene not short on oddballs.
I was in an environment that I was not only unfamiliar with, but also somewhere I was not unwelcome, but excluded from in a certain way. I am a 28-year-old straight male. There is the shared experience of their sexuality that I cannot take part in. To be clear, I never hit an enforced barrier of sexuality, where I was unwelcome because I was straight. However, there is only so far you can go. I cannot experience things the exact same way as of those who I photographed. Experiences can be informed by sexuality, even more so when a group shares that sexuality. The photographs are my experience, and to claim otherwise would be making assumptions on the experience of others. Ideally, the photos align with the experiences of the boys in them (so far this has proven true, although how those experiences are viewed differ widely - a subject for another post).
The analogy of the camera as a passport is really apt here. It got me in, gave me relevance with my subjects, and got me as far as I could get into the scene with the restriction of being straight. I think jumping into the deep end was good for me. It was as crazy as it got. I didn't go out to this year’s Pride as much. The group of boys have, in different ways, moved on or moved away, thus making this year's Pride less of a pillar to the story than the previous. Seems like a long time ago now.
If people were engaged enough to make it this far, and you have any questions or concerns, let me know.