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Exploring Gay Marriage Through Photography

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One of the great things about working freelance is that you can sometimes find yourself in unexpected situations.

On a whim I replied to an advertisement from a photographer looking for models to take part in a project linked to London's LGBT Pride celebrations. The photographer was looking for representations of the classic gay stereotypes - jocks, twinks, daddies, uniform etc. I applied for the role of 'jock'. I am, after all, a sporty gay.

The photographer is William To. He rang me a day or so later and said:
'I've been having a look at the photos you submitted... and I think you'll work better in the "Daddy" role...'
'Sure - no problem' I said. How humiliating - you hit 40 and suddenly you're the daddy.

The shoot itself was a lot of fun - photographer To had paired me with Daniel (who he'd cast as 'Twink') and had us out at Mudchute Farm in East London trying out a range of different poses and outfits to get the shots that he was looking for.

I caught up with To a few weeks later to see where he'd got to with his project which is a riff on the theme of 'marriage equality'. We met over coffee at Long White Cloud - an appropriately antipodean cafe on Hackney Road.

To was excited - literally days away from opening his first solo exhibition at Manbar Soho.

How did the connection with Manbar happen?

I've always had a fascination with the art that was in ManBar - the iconic Prince Harry image is actually my Grindr profile. I approached them to see if they would be interested in showing my work, they felt that it would be a good fit for the venue.

How did you get started in photography?

I picked up an old-school camera in high school. My first photo was a piece of broken glass with some grass growing through it. I was kind of hooked from there.

I went on to study a Bachelor of Photography at Queensland College of Arts and majored in creative advertising.

What is it about photography that interests you?

I think it's the endless variety - you can really photograph everything and anything.

What was it like for you, growing up gay in Brisbane in Australia?

It was an easy place to grow up. Where I lived (The Valley) was pretty much the gay capital of Brisbane - the most accepting suburb to live in. I had a great gay best friend which helped a lot as well.

What led you to move to London?

Most of my work is in advertising and fashion - moving to London was a chance to build my career.

It's been much tougher than I expected - a really big learning curve. I've had to start from the bottom and build my way back up.

Moving over with my boyfriend has helped though, having his support has been important and helped me to feel more secure.

What's the Gay Photographers Network?

It's a group I joined soon after I moved to London - a bit of a social and professional network where you can bounce ideas off each other and also be part of workshops or photo-walks.

I'd always wanted to be part of a network like this and GPN has really given me a creative outlet to push ideas around and evolve thoughts, get opinions, and criticism. You need that as an artist to grow.

There was nothing like this in Brisbane.

'Foreseen Paths' is your first solo exhibition - what's inspired this work?

I've wanted to do this concept for a number of years. It's not that I'm for or against gay marriage, but it seems to be a controversial topic. I wanted to raise questions, whether if you did get married would you be following in the footsteps of straight society and religious traditions.

With the debates in the UK, France, the US, and other places, it just seemed the right time to execute it.

Without any budget to work with, everything had to be improvised. I sourced the models by approaching them directly - some were friends, some I found using Grindr. [http://grindr.com/] I don't use Grindr for sex but it's a surprisingly good way of meeting interesting creative people, although sometimes that can lead to some awkward situations where there is a bit of an expectation.

Putting a solo exhibition together has been a lot more work than I anticipated - it's not just about getting the images ready to go on the walls, it's also all the marketing, promotion, and logistics. Hard work but very exciting.

'Foreseen Paths' is showing at Manbar Soho in London from 4th June - 15th July 2013.