“When you’re seeking escapism in whatever format it is, you don’t think about how it will affect you or, maybe, you don’t really care. It can be an easily read situation not only with gay men, but all men. The bravado, the substance abuse, the fear of being emotional due to a perceived sense of appearing weak. All of these things make it difficult to be true to yourself. In essence, you have a culture of broken men living their lives as projections of masculine ideals that no one really wants to be. A society of phantoms.”
Brian Teeling is talking about the work which led him to create his latest exhibition, “Uncover”. The photographer wanted to document people from the LGBT+ community and exhibited his series of 51 portraits in The Library Project, Dublin, in June 2018. Among his sitters were politicians, musicians, artists, activists, a drag queen and an ex-priest.
“Patrick Boyle is a good analogy for where Ireland is now politically and spiritually. We’re on the back of two incredible referendum results and there genuinely feels like a major separation between church and state. Patrick was a priest in Donegal but he left in the mid-2000s, came up to Dublin and went on to win Mr Bear Ireland in 2010. If you look at photos of him before and after coming out, he’s so fucking happy now! ”
“I wanted the series to be diverse but I know well that it would be impossible to represent the community as a whole in such a series. But there are many reasons why some people couldn’t appear. I asked Leo Eric Varadkar, the first openly gay Taoiseach, for example, but his schedule was full. Some of the people in the photos covered their faces to show solidarity for those who are not out, because they maybe don’t feel comfortable or safe enough. ”
Documentary maker Maria Walsh, who features in the series, was crowned Rose of Tralee in 2014. The annual festival in Kerry crowns their Rose based not on their looks, but on their personality and qualities as a role model.
“Maria’s an amazing activist,” says Brian. “She works for Plan International, a children’s charity that supports girls’ rights and equality. She’s a brilliant ambassador.”
Among the other portraits are the couple Sonya Kelly and Kate Ferris who both work in theatre and production, and a self-portrait of Brian – wearing a pair of pants on his head that were jokingly posted to him from a photographer who he bought prints from.
“It’s important for me to have a bit of a laugh with what I do. I didn’t want to make something without an absence of any humanity or humour. There can be an awful lot of infighting in the LBGT+ community. I try to avoid this as a rule. I’m not interested in introducing new concepts of shame and stigma based on things in your life you can’t control. Where you were born, what class, gender, race, sexuality you are. Rather than having a fractured community, I’d rather we worked to educate ourselves. And others, too. There is lot of ignorance still. Homosexuality was only legalised in Ireland 25 years ago.”
“The high rates of suicide and alcohol and drug dependency in the gay male community reflect the mental health issues rife in the community. Men my age and older, we all grew up in a homophobic society, and that leaves a mark.” The hope is that this project can start to make moves towards openly discussing such issues – uncovering and celebrating the people behind the labels.