An important contribution to Aotearoa New Zealand’s queer history is what best describes the next exhibition at Toi Poneke’s Gallery – Men Alone–Men Together.
Wellington photographer and oral historian Mark Beehre uses words and pictures to tell the stories of 45 gay men – 14 couples, 14 singles, and one trio – and how their lives’ journeys have, for the moment, led them towards or away from relationship with another.
Beehre says the photographs – large-scale portraits taken in the subjects’ homes – reflect the immense diversity of the gay world.
“They are gardeners and jewellers, teachers and builders, priests and fathers,” says Beehre.
“I am exploring what I see as a dichotomy of intimacy and identity. How does someone maintain a strong sense of who they are as an individual while at the same time sharing their life closely and intimately with a lover?”
Beehre started the project back in 2003 in his final year at Elam School of Fine Arts with the intention of producing a book.
“I was particularly inspired by Glenn Busch’s Working Men, which came out in the 1980s. I loved the square-format black-and-white portraits and the stories that accompany them. For me, photographs and oral history sit side by side. The photographs are a visual portrait, and the interviews a verbal one.”
Beehre published the book Men Alone–Men Together in 2010. Now, for the first time, the full series of photographs will be exhibited as the original silver-gelatin prints.
“Many of the men I photographed grew up in a society that condemned homosexuality, in an era when they could have gone to prison just for having consensual sex with another man. We live in a different world now. It’s more than 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 our relationships.
“The stories and photographs in Men Alone–Men Together are an important part of our social history.”
Men Alone–Men Together runs from 21 July–11 August at Toi Poneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street.