Do you think art has the power to make real social change?
Yes, I think it does have the power to make real social change. Images are a very powerful means of communication. Images in the media, though, are highly controlled and manipulated by the people who own the newspapers and magazines. When I worked for the media, all the photographs I made were editorialised by the people above me. But when I make photographs as art I’m able to show and disseminate exactly the images that I want to, and I think it’s possible to raise difficult issues in this manner that would not be possible in the media.
The political and social landscape is markedly different now to when you began your career. How has the process of representing and telling the stories of LGBTQ+ people changed in that time?
Yes, obviously the social and political climate changes from place to place and from time to time. It seems like every decade there was a change depending on where I was. In New York in the ‘70s it was a very exuberant moment and it seemed logical to simply document what was happening. Street photography had become acceptable in the museum world. Not so much as gay subject matter, however. In the ‘80s, in London, the media was waging a campaign against gays describing them as monstrous and the purveyors of the new gay plague, AIDS. Against that backdrop it was imperative to make some positive images of gay men leading normal lives. Similarly, when I arrived in India in the early 2000s there was both a dearth of gay imagery, and a hostile media. So once again it was imperative to produce imagery to counter those narratives. Now, of course, it’s finally feasible to make imagery around queer people that is much more nuanced, as the need for positive images has passed.