This piece originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.Not all bodies are thin, able and white, yet the ones we spot in the media and our feeds are anything but diverse – especially when it comes to queer people in intimate and loving settings. Since not every queer love story is about two hunky cowboys in a tent, so a lot of queers struggle to identify with the people they see on screen.
This is the case for Dutch photographer Jesse van den Berg, who first noticed this problem as a teenager. “Whenever a queer person appeared, they were often given a very one-dimensional role, based on stereotypes,” they say. “And queer love stories were turned into tragic spectacles. I missed seeing queer people love each other in fine and healthy relationships.”In their series Queer Power, they collected vulnerable and intimate photos of friends and acquaintances captured in recent years. From a trans sports teacher, to a fat dancer and a gay man with a small penis, the models of their series embody diverse representations of queerness.
Van den Berg graduated from the St Joost School of Art and Design in Den Bosch, 50 kilometres away from his hometown Nijmegen, at the beginning of the pandemic. During lockdown, photography became a way to connect with interesting people from the LGBTQ+ scene they otherwise wouldn't have got to know during this antisocial period. It allowed them get to know themselves better, too.“Before the pandemic, I didn't really know what my identity as a queer person exactly meant,” they explain. “Thanks to them, I’ve become kinder to myself. I dare to embrace my femininity much more, something I used to suppress out of shame."
Some of the people Van den Berg photographed are long-time friends, others are people they met on social media – like D'Andre, a fat, Black dancer in an industry where bodies are anything but similar to theirs.
Van den Berg also photographed their friend Suus, whose body has changed a lot in recent years. “He’s transmasc and has been exercising quite intensively – he even started a queer fitness company,” Van den Berg says. “Recently, he said he wanted to hang the a picture of his chest in his house. He finally has the body that suits him.”
Then there’s Dirk, who Van den Berg met at a photography fair where he was talking about the lack of representation of people with small dicks. “Especially in the more masculine gay scene, there’s often an emphasis on how good it is to have a big dick,” Van den Berg explains. “Dirk is also fat, which is less represented in the gay scene as well.”
Besides beautiful pictures, these photo sessions also gave birth to meaningful relationships. “You start having personal conversations early on, which makes the contact very special,” Van den Berg says. “I think some people feel safe being photographed by me, precisely because I’m open about my experiences and struggles on social media and in real life.” The sessions also highlighted to Van den Berg that strength often lies in vulnerability. “Daring to expose yourself and be honest, that's what I find powerful,” he concludes.
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