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Photography project explores queer social bonds

“Josh, Josh, Alanna, Patrick, Olivia, Jess,” a photo from the exhibition “Out of Hiding” by Julie Rae Powers, at the Sean Christopher Gallery. Credit: Courtesy of Julie Rae Powers

Julie Rae Powers’ exhibition “Out of Hiding,” which portrays queer families, is the culmination of an ongoing artistic project on queer social bonds.

Powers graduated from Ohio State in 2016 and is both a media designer and a photography teacher at the Columbus College of Art and Design. Her exhibition is on display at the Sean Christopher Gallery in the Short North until Sept. 29.

Powers said her goal with the art was to “capture the strong bonds,” as well as the “joy and the fun that comes with queer families.”

“It’s warmth, love, comfort. She’s breaking down stereotypes,” John McCutcheon, gallerist, said to describe the works and the artist he is hosting.

Powers said “Out of Hiding” was inspired by her friend, Sky, who at a dinner made a toast and said “to my chosen family who I’ve not hidden myself from.”

Within the many group photos, Powers said not everyone pictured is queer, nor are they all public about their sexuality, however, they were aware the photos would be.

Powers defines queer families as chosen families from individuals in the LGBT community.

“People who just choose to back each other no matter what,” Powers said. “It really is about choice, there’s no obligation by blood.”

Powers decided from the start to turn these photos into a series. She knew most of the members of the first families she photographed before she contacted other people through social media. The artist set up appointments with the groups, which proved to be logistically challenging, depending on the size of the family — up to 16 people.

Before taking pictures, she spoke with each family for about an hour.

The photographer let the families choose a place where they would like to be portrayed, whether it was a place they met, a place they liked or even a room where they spend most of their time. Powers  arranged her subject’s poses when needed and asked people to wear whatever they were the most comfortable in.

“Not all queer stories are tragic or dramatic … There’s queer joy and happiness,” Powers said. “We do have this pure bond that happens between us.”

More than simple photographs, this project was an emotional investment for Powers.

“It made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” Powers said. “I got to experience some really honest, heartfelt, tender and vulnerable moments.”

This artistic process also was a sort of therapy for Powers, who has learned how to accept herself as she is.

One of the photos that has a special meaning to Powers is titled “The Biancas,” which portrays a mother and her daughter in black and white. Because they are a bit older than the average of the other family members Powers said they had a different experience in their own coming out story.

The photographer’s technique relies on a straightforward approach. She started the series with just one flash because she did not have the money to buy the perfect lighting equipment.

The artist is still portraying queer families, hoping to continue photographing groups in different U.S. cities and to eventually publish a family album.

“Out of Hiding” is on display at the Sean Christopher Gallery until Sept. 29. A reception with the artist will be organised from 4-6 p.m. on Sept. 22. Admission is free.

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