There’s not doubt that in terms of topical issues, one of the best ways to raise awareness can be through a photoshoot where images can leave a much greater impression than mere words alone. South African photographer Pieter Hugo has never been one to shy away from the controversial, considering one of his best-known works is the documentation of Nigeria’s Hyena Men. For his latest shoot, he takes things to a different level, exploring the life of Jamaican porn stars and “Gully Queens”, a gay community that lives beneath the city of Kingston. In keeping with his usual style, there are so many sensitive issues wrapped into one photoshoot, where gay sex is still an indictable offence in Jamaica and there is still, of course, the ongoing global battle for LGBTQIA equal rights.
This shoot is a part of an upcoming book created in collaboration with the NYC label Hood By Air, which features an essay by stylist Carlos Nazario. After finding out about the Gully Queens, the progression of the shoot occurred on its own. “I was learning about these Gully Queens, who’ve been kicked out of their homes, they’ve been disowned and had to find family amongst one another, and they were forced to live in a gully, hence their name. They were chased out of there and then they moved to a cemetery, and they were chased out of there and they moved to another cemetery and presumably another cemetery… They are frequently attacked by citizens and police alike, and they live as sex workers, they attack one another, you know, it’s dark shit. It’s not fun stuff, it’s heavy, heavy stuff, and of course I was completely intrigued… and that’s what brought us to Jamaica.”
When shooting people who have been so heavily marginalised, there is a big risk of the work being exploitative rather than offering any real substance. Yet the grace with which Hugo captures these talents does nothing but justice to their beauty. Take a look at some of the imagery through the gallery above, and stay tuned for more word on the collaborative work between Hood By Air and Hugo. The book PH x HBA is available via Claire De Reouen Books.