By James Dillon III
Ed. – Our plan was to begin running this series in the Spring, but multiple factors kept us from being able to do that. We are thrilled to announce that the “Queer Americana” series by James Dillon III will begin this coming Monday, August 8.
When we originally ran this introduction, James had just recently traveled the country, creating portraits of queer Americans in settings usually associated more with ‘ordinary America’ than with queerness. By pairing them with the subjects’ own thoughts about being queer in America, they achieved results that are both beautiful and powerful.
Country Queer is proud to bring this important work to our readers. This piece serves as an introduction to the series.
For as long as I can remember, people have been referring to me as “All-American” regarding my appearance. I’m white. I’m tall. I’m sturdily-built with facial features which Western beauty standards would categorize as “classically handsome.” I’ve had to try and reconcile how to accept compliments about my looks while still acknowledging how conventions of attractiveness have the ability to reinforce all sorts of nefarious aspects of our society: racism, colorism, classism, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, to name but a few.
That’s why, last spring, when my fellow photographer friend and long-time creative collaborator DB Greene showed me the photos from our most recent shoot, I thought “I love it! But what else?”
The photoshoot in question took place in my garage in Westbrook, Maine. I’d recently unearthed some old doors on the premises of the nearly 100 year-old house and thought they might make a striking backdrop for a photoshoot. Daniel had recently found a cycling singlet he thought I’d look good in. When coupled together, these elements created what, in my mind, is still very much the prevailing idea or conception of what queer sexuality is: a fit, handsome man baring his body in a rugged, traditionally masculine setting.
None of this is to say that I wasn’t proud of the photos, or that I altogether wrote them off as having no artistic merit. Daniel shot them beautifully and I (if I may be so bold) believe I brought a level of emotional complexity with my modelling that such a shoot might not otherwise have had.
Greene and I have done numerous shoots together, each on both sides of the camera. One hallmark of our work together is playing with conventions of gender and sexual identity. Even so, something about these particular images, in this particular setting, caused a bell to go off in my head.
“I love it! But what else?” lingered. I wanted to start looking at who we don’t normally see when we talk about queer sexuality or even queerness in general. We live in a time of unprecedented queer representation in pop culture. But who in the LGBTQIA+ family gets prioritized in media? Which stories and experiences are we hearing? More importantly: whose stories are we not hearing?
Over the weeks that followed I embarked on what became my most ambitious photo series. I invited as many queer folks as I could to be photographed in my garage, in front of “the doors.” I used this setting as a crucible to explore and celebrate and immortalize different types of queer bodies and different expressions of queer sexuality and queer beauty. Some of these folks were friends I’d known for years. Some I was meeting for the very first time. All of them brought power, beauty, and uniqueness to the shoots.
I then invited each subject to pair their photos with a personal statement or testimony regarding their experience in the world as a queer human. Some folks wrote beautiful essays. Others filled in the blank of the prompt “queerness is ____.” And a few opted to have their portraits speak entirely for themselves.
I then took these same ideas I’d been playing with behind closed doors and began transferring them to the streets. During a monthlong road trip, I reached out to, met with, photographed, and interviewed queer folks on my journey from California back to Maine. I was beside myself after each and every shoot. These folks were absolutely ready to step before the camera of a complete stranger to claim the streets where they live in the name of queerness.
When I began sharing these portrait essays on Instagram, both the ones from Maine and across the country, the result was a bold and beautiful collection of queer stories, queer experiences, and queer art.
Somewhere around Montana was when Dale Geist, the publisher of Country Queer, took notice of my work and asked if he could publish it. I loved the idea of this series having a second home; another digital space through which to celebrate the glorious humans I’ve met on this journey. It is my humbling and wholehearted pleasure to bring you a prelude to a proposed series that will highlight a different subject each week. Each installment will feature multiple images of one subject, paired with their testimony as well as either an intro or outro written by myself. Welcome to your first glimpse at Queer Americana.
James Dillon III is an artist living in Portland, Maine. A self-styled Renaissance Queer, they use photography, writing, and performance art to explore, celebrate, and challenge the world around them.