At the risk of losing credibility for my five years spent in Cleveland, OH, I confess the stories I was told about Pittsburgh, PA were unfounded. I declaimed the merits of Pittsburgh through prideful ignorance until I visited and saw firsthand the gap between reality and constructed cultural myth. In fact, both cities struggle with precarious economic conditions, a result of rusting industrial thoughts, and both desperately desire to keep young people from moving to shinier cities. This tension creates possibilities for building community. Survival becomes creative. All these factors make LGBTQ scenes in non-“metronormative” cities like Pittsburgh, and in rural communities, vital spaces of creativity, strength, and expression.
Creative potential can best be witnessed through the eye of the beholder, which is why I was drawn to an interview in Filthy Dreams with queer archivist Caldwell Linker. Linker’s latest exhibition, All Through the Night, at the Andy Warhol Museum until September 15th, exposes the graceful grit of the queer community in Pittsburgh.
Interviewer Emily Colucci asks Linker to share their thoughts about “the role of photography in archiving and preserving queer bodies and communities”.
I would like to think that I don’t preserve an alternate history. I would like to think that I accurately represent what is going on around me.
One of the most important things to me when working on All Through the Night was authenticity. I wanted it to feel like an authentic representation of what I’ve been a part of for the past several years. I didn’t want it to be exploitative, but authentic. I intentionally left out some more “shocking” or controversial photos because I didn’t want it to be “OOOO, look at my freaky weirdo queer friends”.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to put the pictures through a heteronormative lens and try to make things palatable to “outsiders” (folks not familiar with the queer community). It was a fine line to walk.
As far as how I see my role in archiving and preserving queer bodies and communities, I take what I do very seriously in many ways. Many years ago, I sat down and tried to figure out what I could do as my part of the overall struggle for equality, what I will call “the struggle” (not just LGBT rights, but overall equal rights for many disenfranchised groups). I suck at going to meetings, don’t like chanting, not so great at showing up at the post office or writing letters to Congress people, have pretty poor follow-through, and generally lack many of the skills that make a good activist. So I decided to document as my form of activism. To me, it is something that is important both now and hopefully in the future.
As for now, when you are dealing with a group of folks, and my folks are primarily queer and trans folks and other people who don’t fit neatly into genderboxes, you are dealing with lots of folks who are regularly told by the outside world that they are wrong and ugly, that their love is not acceptable, their bodies are wrong and ugly, etc. I like to give folks pictures that show them how wrong society is, that they are beautiful, their love is beautiful, that their bodies are just fine, and that, in general, at least parts of their lives are pretty awesome. To me, that is part of my activism.
Take a few minutes to read the rest of interview, and if you’re in the area, check out the exhibit. It’s a beautiful testament to living authentic lives.