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What does a gay person look like?
Looking at Tom Dingley’s new photography project, we see men and women with their baby pictures. A nod to growing up. Only when it is contextualised – these are gay people – do we fully appreciate the message behind the photograph.
These are people who are all queer – but all that is visible is the variety.
Tom Dingley’s project, Outcome, features self-identifying queer people. They are adorned with indicators of their current profession, holding images of themselves as children; a then and now perspective celebrating the variety of queer culture.
After a quick photo shoot of me brandishing a couple of notebooks – I’m a writer don’t you know – and a photo of me on my first day at school, aged five, Tom and I had a chat about the project.
From viewing the It Gets Better and No H8 projects, Dingley was inspired by the message of ‘there’s a future’ for young queer individuals. His hope for the project is to speak to those who are still growing and questioning; who may feel that the future is bleak for them. Outcome is a celebration of the variety and possibility available to the queer community.
“I think of myself as a photographer who happens to be gay,” he explains. “When I came out, my father didn’t think I could be gay as I didn’t fit the stereotypes he was expecting.”
Though stereotypes do exist, they are not the defining characteristics of queerness. There is always an exception to any rule. But these exceptions are probably more numerous than we appreciate. Outcome strives to make this more apparent. Being gay is not about a behaviour or profession – it is merely being attracted to those of the same sex. After that it’s all individual; you can be whoever you wish to be.
“I have friends who are in business, construction or banking who are all gay. There’s such a wealth of careers and lifestyles out there, being gay does not limit you or threaten any hopes you have. I wanted to demonstrate that in the work.”
The beginning stages of the project were a modest call to his friendship circle, comprising mostly of men. As more and more people have contacted Dingley about the project, myself included, naturally he has expanded it to include all members of the LGBT community, an indicator that this project speaks a range of people. On a more practical note, it became apparent in the early stages of the project that the images of the subjects as children needed to be significantly bigger!
As the photographs are posted online, Dingley hopes that they might help inspire conversation between parents and children.
“Parents could see the photos and think ‘that could be my son, or my daughter’. It makes you think ‘how would I react if it was?’ which could lead to a conversation which might need to happen, making it easier for their child to feel accepted or less afraid to come out.”
“It’s for the young LGBTQ community; those who don’t even know they’re part of it yet”
Dingley is keen to continue the project indefinitely and is always keen to hear from LGBTQ people who want to be involved. Personally, I really enjoyed the experience. The photo shoot was fun and it offered a moment of contemplation to think of where I am now and how I’ve grown. Coming out to my mother was the first step of my own identification – something that was echoed when I emailed her to ask for any childhood photographs she had of me. We talked about the project and why it was happening. That in itself is an achievement.
Ten years ago, if you had told me that I’d be discussing a photo shoot about being gay and a writer with my mother, I’d have been sceptical. It shows you can achieve whatever you like – be it the career you want or feeling confident in your own identity. Or both.
The photo turned out nice too.