Dazed online carried the story, Shooting Jamaica’s male porn stars in archive Hood By Air with onl six photos for an upcoming book, South African photographer Pieter Hugo is known for his visually arresting images of African communities, such as his visceral documentation of Nigeria’s “Hyena Men”. Now, for a new book created in collaboration with NYC label Hood By Air, he’s turned his lens to a different subject: Jamaica’s male porn stars and “Gully Queens” – a vilified gay community in Kingston who live in a gully (or drain) beneath the city. It’s a particularly interesting choice of subject given Jamaica’s laws on homosexuality (gay sex is still punishable by up to ten years in prison), a topic the photographer addresses in an in-conversation essay with Carlos Nazario, who collaborated on the project, which is featured in the book. “It’s definitely one of the most homophobic and macho societies I’ve ever been to,” he says. “I like it, but I find it deeply problematic.”
“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.” says Nazario.
“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 I sent Shayne this stuff and he got back to me, like, ‘this could be fucking amazing’. He was very excited, and that’s what brought us to Jamaica.”
“Yeah, that was kind of a nucleus, a seed, and that’s what brought us to a broader exploration of male sexuality, in particular West Indian and Jamaican male sexuality – and complicating that...” Hugo continues.
“Some of the people we met in Jamaica who were not homophobic had problems with the Gully Queens because they make their living off crime. I guess it depends on how one looks at that because a lot of them are forced into a life of crime because there’s no way they could find work in Jamaica. We were also photographing body-builders and good-looking men we found on the street. At first we thought it would be impossible to get Jamaican men to wear HBA clothing because it’s gender-bending and risqué, and I think our experience there was very contrary to that.”
Photographing adult film actors and marginalised LGBT people could be exploitative, but Hugo captures these men in a beautiful, hugely respectful way – and one which relates to Hood By Air’s own relationship with America’s queer underground communities.
I am not aware of any group living in or moving into a cemetary but the spin doctoring continues as per usual while truth slowly perishes.
Some of the comments made include:
"Exploiting other's misfortune for your self aggrandizement. Shame on you."