Carol Queen made the most heartfelt comment to me at Friday nights opening reception for the “I Masturbate…” photo exhibition at the Center for Sex & Culture. She said the center really, truly felt like a community gathering space. And I can see why this exhibition prompted that feeling. The Sex-Positive Photo Project is one hundred percent about community. We’re documenting our community. We’re proud of our community. And our community makes the project possible. From the people in the photos to the frames on the wall, it’s all you.
We do this work because we admire you. Really. We love the educators and the performers. The risk-takers and safe-space makers. The “put your money where your mouth is” critical media consumers. The “I felt so fucking alone in my journey to self-acceptance that I’m going to take this giant leap into archivable vulnerability” folks. That willingness to be vulnerable is the thread that holds us together. The recognition of that vulnerability is what motivates people to support us.
A funny moment at the opening was when a friend of mine who wasn’t photographed for the project asked another friend of mine who was photographed, “How did they get so many people to be models? How did they convince you?” To which the friend responded, “It’s Airial, you want someone to do something, you just get Airial to ask for you.” And that made me smile. Maybe it’s because I transmit my enthusiasm so well. If I’m excited about something, chances are it’s worth being excited about.
Shilo is a gifted photographer. One of my most favorite visual artists ever. We met because I wanted to meet her. Simple as that. I saw her photos and thought to myself, this is someone I need to know. We met up at a coffee shop in Oakland one spring evening in 2010 and it’s been a tale of mutual support and collaborative love ever since. Successful collaborations are intimate in their own way. She tells me “I want to do this,” and then I do whatever I can to make it so. I’m a writer- I have no idea how to take a good photo. I don’t know anything about lighting or lenses. I do know that people are starved for media that reflects their experience. I do respect the power of the narrative and the social impact of storytelling. I do understand the combined power of image and text. And that is who we are.
We share the burning desire to celebrate the people that inspire us. The photos on the wall and the people in the building Friday night felt like a culminating event of mutual appreciation.
I’m really grateful Shilo got to feel that love. Many thanks to the Center’s gallery curator, Dorian Katz for inviting the project into the space for the month of May, and also for the heartfelt introduction she gave Shilo during the opening. The staff at the center did a fantastic job of welcoming and hosting the big turn out of friends, family and fans of the project. I appreciate all you who came out to share that moment with us.