Men Alone – Men Together
Men Alone — Men Together
was published in 2010. This is a major project combining
photography and oral history in documenting the lives of 45 gay men —
14 couples, 14 single men and one trio — and recounting how their
journeys have, for the moment, led them towards or away from
relationship with another. Starting with my own circle of friends and acquaintances, I identified
men who were happy to talk about their lives, recorded an interview
with them, and photographed them in their homes. The work was begun in 2003; I continued gathering material until the end of 2006, and than another two years went into editing the interviews. The men I spoke to thus use their own words to recount defining
moments in their lives, as well as touching on significant events in
New Zealand's social history. Many of them grew up in a world that condemned homosexuality, and in which the expression of their love for
each other carried the risk of imprisonment. In contrast, it is now
nearly 25 years since homosexual law reform, gay men's and women's
civil rights are protected, and the Civil Union Act provides legal
recognition of their relationships.
Men Alone — Men Together reflects
the immense diversity of the gay world. These men are our workmates and
neighbours. They are gardeners and jewellers, teachers and builders,
priests and fathers, each with a story to tell of remarkable
determination and courage.
Men Alone — Men Together
is available from the publisher
, from Unity Books
, and from other bookshops around the country.
These photographs have a personal as well as a social significance, serving as metaphors for my own search for intimacy and identity. One of life’s greatest tasks is to answer the question, Who am I? What makes me unique and different from everyone else in this world? On the other hand, taking a lover results – as the poets tell us – in a mixing or union of souls. Intimacy thus becomes a potential threat to identity; any mixture of elements carries with it the possibility that the singular nature of each will be subsumed in the alloy. Two possibilities are thus apparent: togetherness, and blending; or being alone, and unique. It is this dichotomy – both expressed and resolved – that lay at the genesis of these images and which now allows them to be presented as a coherent body of work.
41 Michael Street
I met Wally Petersen for the first time at the beginning of 2003 when I took the photographs at the wedding of his son Chris to my good friend Di Batchelor. Wally was well into his eighties by then, and although his health was beginning to fail his smile was still lively as he witnessed the signing of the register.
Wally was born in 1915. He lived in Masterton and worked as an accountant and senior clerk for a stock and station firm, the Farmers’ Co-op Distribution Company. In 1942 he married Cecelia, and together they had four children: Chris, Terry, Claire, and Anne. About 45 years ago the family moved to 41 Michael St, the home where Wally was to spend the rest of his life.
Wally died in 2004. During the following two or three months I visited 41 Michael St several times, photographing his home as it was when he lived there and then recording the gradual clearing away of his possessions as the house was readied for sale. Thus, indirectly, I have created a portrait of his life. These photographs do not reveal Wally face to face – rather, they provide glimpses of who he was and how he lived. They also bear witness to a part of provincial New Zealand that is now becoming part of our history and cultural heritage.
I owe my thanks to Chris, Terry, Claire, and Anne for their support and encouragement in pursuing this project.
Laings Rd Methodist Church
This brick neo-Classical church was opened in 1927 and by the end of the 20th century was one of a handful of buildings of any age or architectural value in Lower Hutt. I first became aware of its existence in late 2002 when I read in the Dominion Post that it was to be demolished to make way for Briscoes and Rebel Sports stores. I was appalled by this news and felt that it was important to create a visual document of the last days of this building’s life. As in most main-stream churches, declining congregations had been a problem since the seventies. In the 1990s the congregation at Laings Rd merged with that of a neighbouring Presbyterian church, St Mark’s, to form the Hutt City Uniting Congregation and for a while services were held alternately at both venues. For the last two years of its existence, however, the Laings Rd church ceased to be a site of regular worship, although it was still used for special events such as weddings. Like all buildings of its age, it was in need of repair; there were major leaks and the bill would have come to over $100,000 – far more than the congregation could afford.
A decision was made by the local congregation to sell the building to the Methodist Trust Board which already owned adjacent land. The Board proposed to demolish the church – while retaining ownership of the land – and redevelop the entire site for commercial purposes. Briscoes were the proposed tenants at that stage. The members of the church reacted with anger, grief, and a deep sense of betrayal that their own organization would do this to them. On the other hand, of course, were the financial realities of trying to maintain an aging building that was falling into disrepair for lack of resources. Attempts were made to raise funds to save the church, but the amount raised was insufficient, or the Trust Board implacable, and the demolition was scheduled to proceed.
I obtained permission from the Methodist Trust Board to enter and photograph the building in the latter half of 2002 on condition that there would be no exhibition or publication for twelve months, after which the demolition would be a fait accompli. By that stage the interior was already being gutted. The moratorium has now passed and I am able to present these photographs as a testimony to the people whose lives were entwined so deeply with that place and as a protest at the short-sighted triumph of economic expediency over aesthetics, history, community, and spirituality.
Landscape and Architecture
Wedding and Civil Union
For centuries artists – and
more recently, photographers – have drawn a distinction between two different
approaches to depicting the human form. On the one hand, a ‘portrait’ is a
representation of a particular individual, designed (as Roland Barthes
observed) to evoke in the viewer the intuitive response that this is the one that they have known. On
the other, a ‘nude’ draws on the conventions and fashions of the era to present
an aesthetic or erotic ideal: one in which the personality and idiosyncrasies
of the subject are less important than the perfection they are called on to
embody. Somewhere between the two
sits the ‘naked portrait’: the absence of clothing calls to mind the thousands
of nudes we have seen in books, galleries and magazines, but the intention here
is to preserve, rather than efface, the specific identity of the person
depicted, while removing the ‘façade, persona and signs’ that clothing usually
Undressed is then an
exploration of the naked portrait. The guys I have photographed are of various
ages and from different walks of life: my concern was not to capture the body
beautiful, but to create a space where these men could stand naked before the
camera, allowing themselves to be seen for who they are. And thus (again
paraphrasing Roland Barthes), as you, the viewer, stand with me behind the
camera, the anonymous stranger suddenly becomes intimate, the subject looking
through the lens into our eyes, defiant and vulnerable at the same time,
provides a open space for our imaginative entry into the frame, the subject
made flesh – but never fully, and always mysterious.
Men Undressed will be exhibited at Photospace Gallery, 37 Courtenay Pl, Wellington, from 11 March to 2 April 2011. Only a selection of the images appears on the website.
These images are a celebration of the joy of taking and viewing photographs. In September 2008 my partner and I spent three weeks in Argentina, visiting the capital, Buenos Aires, and then travelling to the northwest of the country to the provinces of Salta and Jujuy. From there we ascended onto the alteplano or high plateau that forms the base of the Andes, rising to altitudes of over 4,000 metres. The camera I used for my holiday snaps was a Rolleiflex; around me other tourists held their digital cameras at arm's length, but I was content to use the technology and aesthetics of half a century earlier to document my trip.
Queer Our Schools
For a long time the word "queer" was used in a derogatory and insulting fashion to refer to gay men, butch women, and many others who stand outside traditional norms of heterosexual identity and behaviour. In recent decades, however, "queer" has been reappropriated by politically active - and often younger - groups of people who do not conform to those norms of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is now frequently used in an inclusive sense to encompass the entire spectrum of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex encapsulated in acronyms like LGBTI.
"Queer Our Schools"is a youth-focussed campaign sponsored by the Wellington-based Queer Avengers to promote the needs and well-being of queer youth in our schools. It seems fair to say that the emphasis of the group is on gender-variant students rather than now-nearly-mainstream concepts of gays and lesbians. The campaign was launched on 6 October 2011 with a march from the Ministry of Education in Thorndon to the downtown Civic Square. It highlighted the disproportionately high incidence of suicide among queer youth and made a series of demands to the Ministry of Education including "incorporating sexuality and gender variance diversity into all relevant subjects," "zero-tolerance of homophobic and transphobic bullying," and "requiring professional development of staff to model queer positive spaces."
A Queer Existence
Law Reform, passed in 1986, was an important milestone in New Zealand’s
history. After years of campaigning for gay rights, sex between men was no
longer illegal, and the path was clear for further reforms. Over the following
twenty years discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation became illegal
and same-sex relationships received legal recognition under the Civil Union
Existence is a new documentary project looking at the lives of gay/queer men
born since Law Reform. Wellington-based photographer and oral historian Mark
Beehre has already made a significant contribution to the queer history of New
Zealand with his Men Alone—Men Together, in which 45 gay men tell the stories
of their lives and relationships. Most of those men are now in their sixties or
older and Mark is now setting out to record the experiences of a group of
younger men who have grown up in a very different world.
parts to A Queer Existence. The first is an interview where you talk about you
life and experiences. The second is a photoshoot. The photographs will be
exhibited towards the end of 2013 and, along with the interviews, will provide
the material for a new book. A Queer Existence will also form the basis of a
Master of Fine Arts degree that Mark is working towards at the Elam School of
Fine Arts at Auckland University.
Existence is about writing history as it is lived. If you are a gay/queer man
born since 1986 you might like to be part of this exciting project. You will
have the chance to tell your story of queer life in the 21st century. Perhaps
it’s been easy. Perhaps you’ve had struggles. Perhaps being gay is now so
mainstream you’re wondering why anyone would bother to write about it. That’s
all part of the picture.
interested in finding out more, you can e-mail Mark at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to his website www.markbeehre.co.nz, or
phone or text him on 027 416 4402.
the University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee on 11 September
2012 for 3 years, reference number 8073.