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Reframing Identity: Analogue in Queer Imagery

Soham Joshi is a visual artist based in Brighton, UK, known for his innovative use of alternative photographic techniques to examine urban life and personal identity. His art is a celebration of form, whether in people or architecture, and he has evolved his craft to include photo-print staining and scanner-based photo collages. Soham's commercial work in fashion and fine art photography has appeared in various magazines, and he has also made a name for himself in music photography, collaborating with notable publications. Looking ahead, Soham aims to delve into mixed-media creations that blur the lines between various art forms.

Your series ‘Camera and The Queer Image’ is exploring identity through

analogue photography, could you tell us more about this?

Sunil Gupta's 'We Were Here: Sexuality, Photography, and CulturalDifference' highlights how everyone who does not fit into a heteronormative system is thought to have an "alternate sexuality", and to me, this thinking led to my camera. The camera world intended for film sheets to sit sheltered within slides. These sheets get developed by the chemicals and put out pictures of the best standard supplied by scans and prints. Anything that transgresses this traditional image-making procedure, and its qualities is seen as an 'alternative' process.

While creating this work, I experienced a dysphoria of orientation brought on by using a large format camera. Lines converged and focus blurred as the bellows moved to frame what the lens saw. In terms of their identity, the resulting pieces are wholly fluid. The darkroom paper I used doubled as an image-capturing surface while also becoming a print. Dents can be further seen on the pieces as they resist to being confined in a camera slide. This is then made visible as they are processed through the chemical development process.'Camera and The Queer Image' accounts for this tension of being pressed into a box, comparing it to my own experience.

What is it specifically about the hands-on process of analog photography that made you want to work with it for this project? With this particular project, there seemed to be a sense of uncertainty with the output that could only be fixed by my manually performing procedures. In order to try to fit the paper inside the slide, I had first to measure the slides and cut the paper just a little smaller than their edges. Even then, I would need to step in to hold the paper and fit the slide cover over it due to the friction between the thick paper and the slide covers. I used a Shen hao 2 4x5” camera to make this work. Here, the "hands- on" element of image-making is underlined because I quite literally constructed the camera before constructing the image. With each modification to the camera's axis, I began to notice how fluid the view was. Every roll of the fingers meant that a plane was being changed, either through focus or perspective. I'd have to keenly observe how these pieces developed in the darkroom. Since I would meter the subjects using ISO 3 as the paper's sensitivity, I was unable to adequately account for the reciprocity failure while occasionally leaving the shutter open for more than a minute. To prevent losing the imagery on the paper, I would need to stop the process and fix the image just in time. This made me feel a sense of intimacy with the process. I believe that analog photography empowers the definition of the word photography. Ever since I started exploring analog processes, I was fascinated with the materiality of the outcome. Unlike standard digital photography, I enjoyed how I could touch the photosensitive surfaces and feel the making of images while controlling every step of it whether in camera or in the darkroom; it truly felt like I was ‘painting with light’.

The exploration of the self, particularly queerness and gender identity, through self-portraiture has such a rich history within photography. What were your inspirations going into this project? The Indian photographer Sunil Gupta has been my most significant source of inspiration. Particularly his recent book, 'We Were Here: Sexuality, Photography, and Cultural Difference'. As I've mentioned before, his account of alternative sexualities helped me to connect alternative photographic techniques to alternative gender identities. I attended Asa Johanesson's lecture earlier this year about their body of work titled "The Queering of Photography." While the entire set of concepts and imagery truly resonated with me, Asa's 'Skin' project prompted the idea to consider the sculpture-like qualities of my own works. They explore the tension between a polaroid's base and what happens to it when it is pulled off of it in this piece. As described by Asa, this is similar to the "attempt to disrupt and free oneself from a pre-destined goal" alongside coming out and unfolding oneself. To research about the body and the pose, I was looking at Ryan Pfluger’s series ‘Holding Space’ and Olof Grind’s series of photographs on polaroid cameras. Additionally, the works of artists like Antony Cairns, Dayanita Singh, and members of the London Alternative Photography Collective, Melanie King and Martha Gray, have always been dear to me and have inspired me to challenge conventions in image-making and develop new ideas for displaying my work.

What kind of ‘conversations’ would you like your work to be creating within photography? I suppose what my work represents within photography is the same as what it stands for in the outside world. Given my background in commercial art, I was always told to look at the camera as a tool for creating the perfect image. During my stay in the UK, I began to give the camera a sense of agency and realised how important its role is in shaping the identity of an image. In an attempt to start conversations on what it means to be queer in a set norm system and how one can differ from these norms and processes, I explore the tension between the camera and the photosensitive materials placed inside it. I want to make alternative photographic methods more visible and encourage artists to view their work as an entire entity rather than as a series of prints.

What is next for you? How do you plan to explore these topics further in your practice? As my master's degree in photography at the University of Brighton comes to a conclusion, I am eager to research queerness and identity in my homeland using alternative photographic techniques. Although coming out in a queer- safe place like Brighton was a privilege, I would like to bring these perspectives and conversations to Pune, where I live in India. In the upcoming work-in-progress series, which is a sister project to this body of work, I challenge myself to make work using a 35mm camera while discussing confinement and the idea that something relatively miniature can actually be significant and express greatly. In addition, I'm collaborating with one of my favourite write and a close friend, Parth Rahatekar, to compile a book box with my pieces from "Camera and The Queer Image" and their poems woven together.

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