Seattle-based photographer Adrien Leavitt has spent the last year capturing images that “appreciate the aesthetic beauty of queer bodies.” Together, these photographs make up Queer Feelings, a project that examines the healing process and growth of queer, transgender, and non-normative bodies.
Queer Feelings isn’t Adrien’s first project; it manifested itself from another project, #1 must have, compiled with Adrien's friend A. Slaven. Adrien explains, “While #1 must have explored queerness often in its public form, Queer Feelings turns that exploration inward to queerness in private spaces — both literal private spaces, such as the home, and emotional private spaces where we experience our most vulnerable, raw selves.”
As for how Adrien approached this vulnerability: “The project started with the intersection of my personal interest in shooting self-portraits as a way to understand my own body and a desire to shoot nudes. I have always found turning my camera on myself and shooting self-portraits as an important outlet, both creatively and as a way to help me understand my own transgender, non-normative body.”
This sense of self-exploration, complexity, and beauty is exactly what viewers can see within each photograph. Whether through specific body parts or the entirety of them, Adrien allows space for his subjects to contemplate how they want to present themselves.
Braedyn Ezra, who participated in Queer Feelings, wrote about his experience in February. Explaining his desire to participate, Braedyn writes, “I had seen friends of mine participating and was captivated by their bare and brave ability to open themselves up to being viewed in such an intimately raw way.” Braedyn chose the shower for his shoot and described the experience as cleansing, “Any sense of discomfort I had about opening myself up like this went right down the drain.”
There’s no way to confine a shoot that looks to “capture personality, mood, and perspective of the person.” And confining the shoot is not the approach that Adrien wants to take with Queer Feelings. Adrien informed BUST that he hopes the project “allows for a depth to this work, where the person who is in the photo is able to express themselves through my work, rather than simply being models for the project.”
Queer Feelings is a continuous learning experience for Adrien. Queer Feelings challenges his inner dialogue because with each subject and shoot comes new conversations and ideas. But the emotional investment is worth it for Adrien, who describes the response to Queer Feelings as incredible. “I’ve been really surprised and thrilled at how many people have seen the work and have felt a personal connection to it.”
However, there has been one major bump along the way with socialmedia, specifically Instagram and its “community guidelines” in regards to nudity. Adrien illuminates his frustrations, saying:
Instagram is a very important tool to share photography, and one that I value as a platform for creative work. However, they have very strict and antiquated rules around what is deemed appropriate to share — for example, while cisgender men’s nipples are allowed, cisgender women’s nipples must be censored. This type of policy polices and silences women’s bodies, trans and gender non-conforming bodies, fat bodies, and people of color’s bodies. I have been unhappy to have to censor my work simply to share it online, particularly while high sexualized imagery of women is rampant on these same social media platforms.
Adrien’s Instagram photographs have to be censored with the words Queer Feelings; the title covers body parts that are deemed explicit. While this photo has been removed as a violation of the community guidelines, photographs like this and this, photos from the cisgender gaze, continue to be labeled appropriate. Adrien's photographs work to break these rules, allowing for all bodies to be explored, disrupting traditional perspectives of the norm on what is allowed to be seen and what isn’t.
Though Queer Feelings is available for anyone interested to ingest, Adrien’s goal is to “create a body of work that queer people specifically will feel a connection to.” Queer Feelings has been exhibited a handful of times over the last month in Seattle, where over 200 images were displayed. Though the first run of the project is about to wrap up, Adrien is adamant about the project continuing and says, “The project is still an evolution and very much a work in progress. I’m going to resume shooting photos for the project in July, and I’m particularly interested in shooting with marginalized people and trans women.”
Look for the first volume of Queer Feelings as well as his next big project, and collaboration with Nilda Brooklyn, that focuses on, “the gentrification and loss of the queer space in Seattle,” with the growth of its tech industry. It is titled In This Place: 206. More of Adrien’s photography can be found at www.adrienleavitt.com.
All photos by Adrien Leavitt. Top photo: "Queer Feelings: Alea"
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Samantha Ladwig is a writer, book reviewer, and the owner of Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, Washington. Her work has been published by New York Magazine, Bustle, Real Simple, Vice, Bust Magazine, and others. Find her at www.samanthaladwig.com.