Review: "I See You See Me"

Photo exhibition sheds gentle light on LGBTQ+, disabled, and neurodivergent lives

feet on chest (Photo by Caddy Burns)

Photographs capture still moments and preserve them through a process of light and intention. With "I See You See Me" (the current exhibit in the Julia C. Butridge Gallery at the Dougherty Arts Center) intention is paramount as the photographers behind the 55 curated images intend to show their lives as queer, trans, nonbinary, disabled, neurodivergent, and chronically ill with hyperreal accuracy.

ISYSM is the result of several three-month workshops taught by the Begin Collective, a photography-based creative group started by siblings riel and Bianca Sturchio. Participants, first selected through an open call and then nominated by the previous class, were equipped with 35mm cameras and color film to learn the processes of scanning, editing, and creating narrative photos. While neither sibling lives in Austin currently, the city was where riel made their home during the pandemic, which was one reason for ATX as ISYSM's first landing place. Another was the intrinsic meaning of holding queer-specific art space in a state that saw over 140 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in the most recent Texas Lege session. "It is also where our in-person portrait sessions took place," riel relayed over email, "and it was important for folks to be able to build community by interacting with others in their local, immediate area."

Altogether the show bears the handiwork of 18 local artists. They range in age, identity, and approach: Digital intervention marked photos by certain artists while others only bathed their photos in the delicious orange and yellow of light exposure. Many of the artists attended the reception where I first saw the exhibit, and perhaps being in the presence of so many people beaming with the glow of having their creations perceived heightened my own experience.

The truth is I enjoyed the simple pleasure of being a viewer. When I view photographs – lives made flat and tangible – I can contextualize them within my own life. A photo of sunlight filtered down over a sandwich board sign becomes familiar when I recognize it's Bouldin Creek's patio. Photos of a messy kitchen table where Topo Chico bottles catch sunbeams and dust lingers around all that's visible cause memory visions to surface: friend's tables where I've gossiped about love lives and intra-qmmunity quarrels.

I particularly gravitated toward several portraits taken of people in chest binders. As a young person in my transition journey, and honestly right up until having top surgery in 2022, my idea of a person in a binder was limited to my own mirror or stale images of thin, blond trans masculine models on queer clothing websites. Yet the portraits, in particular those taken by Devin Alejandro-Wilder and Marley Zollman, breathe with full-blooded warmth. They take the unnatural – a garment of synthetic fabric – and match it to the natural beauty of grass, flowers, and sunlight.

ISYSM's intended purpose is to challenge assumptions about what LGBTQ, disabled, and chronically ill lives are supposed to look like. Those intentions color each photograph in the show as much as actual color film has. These are lives set still but still very much alive.

"I See You See Me"

Julia C. Butridge Gallery, 1110 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-4000
Mon.-Thu., 10am-10pm; Fri., 10am-6pm; Sat., 10am-4pm
Though Aug. 12

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I See You See Me, Photography, Begin Collective, riel Sturchio, Bianca Sturchio, Devin Alejandro-Wilder, Marley Zollman, Julia C. Butridge Gallery, Dougherty Arts Center

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