Paul Mpagi Sepuya
2012 Brooklyn, New York, USA
It has been two years since At The Same Time, a group exhibition by Colin Quinn, Oisin Share, Steven Beckly, Dylan MacNeil, Ted Kerr and Zachary Ayotte, was first shown in Edmonton, Alberta in 2010. The six involved were also three couples, each at a different point in their relationships with each other and photography's intervention in their lives. From across different geographic locations (Edmonton, Toronto, New York, and Manchester), they encountered each other, as happens in friendships and visual culture these days, in the online gathering spaces of young gay artists and their fans.
Steven emails me an introduction about this project asking if I would write an introduction to the book. I begin looking through the images and recognize the photograph of Dylan head's cradled in Steven's hand. It was re-blogged some time ago and I dragged it to my desktop. Now I know it is Steven's hand, and specifically who Dylan is. Ted and Zach--they lived together fora short time in New York and their faces are so very familiar but do we know each other? Have we crossed paths in this city or do I only recognize them the way I recognize Dylan?
I must have discovered Colin & Oisin's images online at the same time they started their Flickr ac-count which then became their website, known publicly as Quinnford + Scout. Their sites stood out among the burgeoning zine- and blog-based queer photography happening at the time by the consistency and quality of the images that unfolded in their daily lives. As a casual viewer, I did not know that these images were made to communicate over distance between the two as their relationship began with distance between them. The unencumbered honesty and excitement of discovery is immediately apparent in their work. In their photographs, the camera never leaves their hand. It passes back and forth, but bodies are pressed close to the lens in a firm embrace. The daily life and experience that grew out of Quinnford + Scout is a touchstone for a generation of young queer men: in characters and sensibility beyond glamour and primped bodies and fashion--the romanticized depiction of quotidian life.
Ted sent me a message on Facebook introducing himself and sharing his and Zachary's Flickr accounts. That message remains in my online inbox when I search for it, and although the links remain active I will never know again exactly what was on those sites at that past moment. They have inevitably accumulated new images, which have been edited, and re-organized. They have changed, but their structure remains. Ted & Zach met in 2006. They began photographing their relationship in 2oo8 as a means of communication when Ted began traveling for work, exchanging images with dates and locations through texting and emailing. Looking at these now I cannot say for certain whether some of the images where made together or apart-- in images of Zachary, is Ted present at the shutter, or laying on some bed in the same light that's reflecting onto the wall behind the mirror? Ted and Zach's image streams operate as parallel narratives that weave in an out of each other.
I asked Steven how the boys (as they refer to each other) all got in touch. They had all found each other's work online by this time, but it was Zachary in Edmonton who wrote to Steven & Dylan in Toronto, and Colin & Oisin in Manchester.
At The Same Time reminds me of shared writing, of epistolary novels, of narratives told in letters between lovers. Letters between lovers reserve little room for the reader, but the love letter in the medium of Flickr constructs an entire parallel stream for the viewer to follow the story. These are lovers writing between and for each other, as well as in exchange with other lovers. They hover around each other in a narrative of self-conscious description and revision, for anyone who so wishes to follow.
This makes me wonder, having known each other's work, if the photographers acknowledge making work to reflect, in this new way, the fantasy of the other relationships. Steven's photographs of Dylan bear the strongest agenda in their making, rather than the editing of selected memory. The images he describes are 'moments that [Dylan and I] wanted for ourselves that may or may not have happened yet.' Is Steven's photograph of Dylan reading in the bath with Steven's legs resting on his shoulders an intimate snapshot, or an image constructed about some other relationship, or other characters, who he and Dylan are portraying as references--signposts towards which they are aiming?
These images, along with those by Colin & Oisin, and Ted & Zachary, throw my one basic assumption into question: that these boys—regardless of their self-consciousness, and the need to balance intimate disclosure with editing and slight fiction—are unquestionably themselves. They become shared moments by their ordinariness, their specificity. Is the love letter such because it is about love or because it is the communication between lovers?
Ted describes the sense of 'admiration and jealousy' in looking at Colin & Oisin's online diary, the projection of an idealized relationship that elicits feelings I can relate to. I would say that most of the followers of all three of these couples feel the same sense of complementary, and not the least contradictory emotions.
There was a period after Zach and I broke up  when I couldn't look at Quinnford and Scout's photos. By then, Steven and Dylan's photos were less about their lives together. But Q+S's photos were like stabs in my heart reminding me of what Zach and I no longer had.
It has been two years now since At The Same Time was first exhibited. Countless new images have been added. Ted & Zach have separated, but this work will keep them together as creative comrades. Like having a child. And I hear that Colin & Oisin have also parted as a couple. Both of these sadden me, but of course, I am only a passive viewer to their lives. Steven & Dylan have finally exchanged 'I love yous' three years into their relationship. It was documented. But, I don't know if 'I love you' was ever spoken or if the photograph made with the title was enough. But either way, the photograph is there, and as far as I know they love each other just as intensely as the love they see in Colin & Oisin's, and Ted & Zach's photographs.
One of the complications of being an artist working in photography, in making portraits of people, documents of a relationship, is that the return to these images, the re-editing, the re-contextualization continues. They are not separate from the artist's life, they are central to it.
Written for At the Same Time