Eric Gyamfi’s project “Just Like Us,” which showcases queer people in his native Ghana, began as an endeavor to fill a void.
“The plan for me was to document an aspect of my history that I feel has not been documented,” he explained. For Mr. Gyamfi, who received a 2016 Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund grant to support the work, the idea was to carve out a space in Ghana, to show queer people exist and that they are like anyone else. “It’s a way of establishing that there are queer people here,” he said. “Not just for the rest of the population but to provide a space for us in history.”
His first attempt, photographing L.G.B.T. people who had experienced violence or abuse, failed. He had spent time in 2015 with an organization working to end violence against the L.G.B.T. community. He photographed some of the people the organization worked with and then showed the pictures around. People’s responses, which ranged from “That person deserved it” to “That person isn’t normal,” convinced him that he needed to stage a more radical intervention in how people perceived the L.G.B.T. community.
S. and A. at lunch. They are a couple who volunteer to teach children with various learning disabilities.
Mr. Gyamfi set out to make photographs of queer people that didn’t portray them as victims, or as otherwise extraordinary, but rather as normal and as individually complex as anyone else.
“People are queer but people are also other things,” he said. “People who do not understand queerness have a singular notion of what queer people are supposed to be or supposed to look like. So what I came in to do was to show people that queer people are people first and that they cut across all categories of humanness. There is no singular way of showing who a queer person is, I feel. They can be anything or anybody. “
His photos show queer people laughing, lounging and generally living uneventful lives. They are remarkable, in some ways, only for their normalcy and their unremarkableness. But as an antidote to widespread misconceptions about L.G.B.T. people, misperceptions which have real and sometimes deadly consequences, they are powerful.
And, crucially, they are not obviously about queerness. Mr. Gyamfi wanted to create images that did not announce their agenda, but rather emphasized the universal humanity of Ghana’s L.G.B.T. community.
D. and R. have been in a relationship for a year and live together. R. is a nurse and D. studies communications.
“People can walk by the photographs and not really put any of the people depicted in those photographs in a box,” he said. “People can just walk into the exhibition space or glance through a magazine where the work is published, and really not see anything peculiar about it, but just see people going about their regular lives, and people living and people being human.”
Though same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Ghana, Mr. Gyamfi is quick to deflect questions about conditions for the L.G.B.T. community there. He wants the work to exist as a celebration rather than an elegy. “Why can’t someone want to celebrate their people or their kind, without there being a box to put them in like, ‘Oh, they are celebrating themselves and they are in the minority or they are marginalized?’” he wondered.
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that his work, as an intervention to the prescribed narratives for queer people, derives at least some of its power from that conflict. When queerness is seen as the very antithesis of normal, normalcy is the only antidote.
“It’s in the mundane, it’s in our everyday life that all these complex identities come together to make us who we are. And I felt something as banal as showing people in their everyday life can be so powerful and has the potential to draw empathy or to make people feel connected where they may feel otherwise not connected.”
Source: The New York Times