Gay artist James Fowler saw a problem to be fixed as Pride approached this year: not enough queer content in Toronto’s art scene and not enough visual art in the Pride programming. “While the arts and queer communities are mutually autonomous,” he says, “there’s certainly a crossover, and I wanted to shine a light on that axis point. I thought these people need some recognition.”
Fowler began by talking to photographer David Pike about doing a show at the White House Studio Project in Kensington, but the idea expanded quickly. “It dawned on me that I knew some really talented queer photographers,” says Fowler. “Instead of just asking one, why not ask 10, and if they each did 10 portraits, that would be 100 portraits.” On top of the gallery show, the photos will be packaged in a book, and a portion of those proceeds will go to a grant for a young queer artist or group looking for funds for an artistic project.
Fowler’s photographers for 10×10 are Tania Anderson, Joey Bruni, Paul Buen, John Caffery, InkedKenny, Patrick Lightheart, David Pike, G Elliott Simpson, Tanja-Tiziana and Rannie Turingan (who shot Richard Ryder, on the right), each of whom set out to find queer people in the arts who fascinate them.
“Picking only 10 subjects was tough,” says Tiziana. “My aim was to feature artists who I felt really deserved a spotlight.” Caffery says his requirement was that “the subjects had to be Canadian, identify as queer or trans, be people that I actually like and be interesting artists and creative individuals who excite me.” Fowler’s only instruction to the group was to balance established artists with young up-and-comers.
For Lightheart, shooting these portraits meant a “toned-down” version of his style, which he enjoyed as a challenge. G Elliott Simpson says he, too, threw his usual approach “out the window in favour of letting the character and personality of the subject dictate the style and look.” Others saw the project as an opportunity to try out bold new styles. “People that are familiar with my work might be surprised to see what I have chosen,” says InkedKenny (his Marty Rotman photo left), while Tiziana went for something “noirish and queer, with a twist. I decided to shoot the entire series of portraits underwater, bringing each artist into a beautiful and equally frightening alternate space, where the usual rules wouldn’t apply.”
Even the photographers who didn’t put their subjects underwater were often surprised by the willingness of their artists to commit to the shots in big and small ways. “I’m used to weird and wonderful people,” says Simpson, who normally makes his models endure being body-painted, but playwright Brad Fraser surprised him by insisting on it. “He’s a truly genuine and affable guy. The afternoon was like hanging out with an old friend.”
Even old photos held surprises, such as Caffery’s shot of dancer/drag performer Paul DeAdder. “I’d actually forgotten that I had taken it,” says Caffery. “I was going through my Polaroids and came across this creepy weird image of him changing outfits in an old meat locker, looking like some bizarro world version of the character Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.”
“Subject-wise, the exhibit reads like a who’s who and a who will be,” Fowler says. “I love the balance between those who have cleared the way and those who are just cutting their teeth.” Simpson calls the exhibit “the tangible face of the queer community,” and Caffery hopes the show will inspire viewers to seek out work from more queer artists.
“Sometimes, in the arts,” says Tiziana, “it’s so easy to feel isolated and pessimistic when your struggles get the best of you. Every face you see in 10×10 has been facing those struggles for years; they prove that we can overcome and thrive.”