Why a Queer Photographer Is Going South

From Christian Hendricks's Kickstarter campaign for South of the Ohio: A Queer Photo Documentary
From Christian Hendricks’s Kickstarter campaign for South of the Ohio: A Queer Photo Documentary (all images via Kickstarter)

CHICAGO — Budding young Cincinnati-based gay documentary photographer Christian Hendriks has an agenda. It involves travel, pictures and maybe even you.

His ambitious project South of the Ohio: A Queer Photo Documentary, will take the great American roadtrip south from the Midwestern state of Ohio, roving into warm climates to document queer cultures that exist amongst the weeds, the flowers, the cows, and the corn fields.

“For this project, I’m interested in any queer community — whether it be a small town with a gay bar, or marginalized communities of queer people who have come together in a rural area where queer identity is, at best, ignored,” Hendriks told Hyperallergic via email. “Safe zones and communities for queer people are seemingly rare in certain parts of the South.”

Other questions he wants to delve into include what it’s like to be queer in an politically conservative region that is also known for its hospitable attitudes.

Crystal, Toledo, OH (2011)
Crystal, Toledo, OH (2011)

To locate queer people who live outside of cities and in areas that are more rural, or in small towns, Hendricks is using means that a typical documentarian might find unusual.

“For example, I’ve been using the gay meet-up app Grindr (which displays profiles by proximity to you) and spoofing the GPS to be anywhere I choose,” he says. “I dropped a pin in the region in the South with the highest density of Southern Baptists churches (Rural, North-Eastern Mississippi, incidentally). In chatting with some people there, almost no one told me they were out; they told me they had to drive hours to the nearest gay bar, and one individual even told me that everyone who was gay knew each other, stating that, ‘everyone knows everything about everyone’s sex life.'”

Hendricks’ interest in queer stories located outside of major cities echoes Rosemary MacAdam’s blog post “Queer in a Haystack: Queering Rural Space” on the blog NOMOREPOTLUCKS, in which the writer discusses the predominant narratives surrounding queer coming out experiences and rural areas:

Queer theorists have begun to look at the metrocentric assumptions of the predominately urban queer culture. Not only is the country posited as ‘backward,’ it has been mapped onto the ‘coming-out’ narrative of many queer identified people — the country is the closet in which they escape upon relocating to the ‘liberated’ cityscape. While it is the experience of some, this dominant narrative erases the experience of queers who have chosen to live in the country.

Hendricks’ project seeks to capture the experience of those Southern types.

Hendricks’s proposed travel route.

His work is reminiscent of the 2006 documentary film Small Town Gay Bar by Matthew Ingram, which focuses on the community engendered by two gay bars in the rural south: Rumors in Shannon, Mississippi, and Different Seasons/Crossroads in Meridian, Mississippi. In these locales, being openly gay and just surviving go hand in hand. But of course, as all us queers know how to do well, the folks in this movie have FUN despite the struggle. What notably stands out in this film is the type of community that forms in these rural southern locales. Writes Karman Kregloe for The Backlot:

When’s the last time you went into a big-city gay bar and saw butch dykes and flamboyant queens sharing the same space? Or, for that matter, queers of different colors? Ingram’s film reminds us that just because urban gays have the luxury of unspoken segregation, it doesn’t mean it’s a condition to which we have to aspire.

Will Hendricks uncover people, places and creative communities like these? If his Kickstarter project gets funded, he just might.

Visit Hendricks’s Kickstarter page (funding opportunities end on June 5) or check out the project on Tumblr

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