This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.
The family unit in 2021 takes many forms, from the family we are born and raised into, to the ones we seek out. This is never more prominent than in the LGBT+ community where queer youth forge the friendships and families they needed in formative years. This search for acceptance and love where it may have previously been vacant is a powerful one and in Peyton Fulford’s ongoing series Infinite Tenderness. The portrait series documents ways in which intimacy, community and support help individuals find their own identity. Wanting to create a safe space in which LGBT+ youth can support one another, Fulford’s work explores this unique balance of the individual and a found community / family unit.
The people we meet within this series look both vulnerable in their openness to Fulford and their camera as well as being stoic, proud portraits of a queer youth living in America. The recent history of queer youth in America has been a troubling one and queer youth today are still faced with intolerence, violence from both outside and inside their family units. Figures from The Trevor Project are alarming, with suicide in LGBT youth from the ages 10-24 to be three times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts and most recently, the story of 12 year old Riley Hadley from the UK who took his own life due to continuous homophobic bullying shocked the LGBT+ community around the world. When we see depictions of the queer community in mainstream media, the sense is always a strong, connective unit. Protecting one another, fully aware of how the outside world to the community can be when it isolates individuals away from the supportive and accepting unit of like minded communities. With this in mind, the empowerment which Fulford is creating within Infinite Tenderness for the queer youth community shows how the artist becomes not only a witness, but a participent in the lives and experiences of her subjects.
With the rural America as the series backdrop in which these individuals live and with Fulford coming from a strictly religious background and queer herself, the layers that can be found within these portraits are what make them a beautiful example of how to create portraits in collaboration with a subject. In the project, Fulford discusses how navigating the world around her whilst she didn’t feel fully a part of heteronormative lifestyle to be a complex and challenging one and brings this level of past experience to this body of work. There is a clear bond and understanding between photographer and subject, a trust and respect for both of their lived experiences to create emotive portraits that go far beyond LGBT+ youth and taps into the acceptance we all look and long for at times.
Fulford within these portraits carefully navigates individual stories and the strength of a community through a combination of both the group and single portrait. There is power that can be found in each of these portraits, regardless of how many people inhabit the frame. By being part of this community themselves, the work feels as both a portrait series sharing the lives of others but also Fulfords own experiences growing up queer in America. This relatability and connection is what makes this series exactly what the title says, tender. The tenderness which this approach offers up allows the work to not feel as documenting the other, this is Fulfords tribe, people she feels a connection to, and it shows. Far too often throughout the history of photography, communities (a term coined by white hetrosexuals) are depicted heavily on their differences as humans, rather than showcasing our shared humanity, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Fulford breaks this glass ceiling of a trend by oozing every inch within the frame with warmth, love and understanding.
Growing up queer we dont grow up as an authentic version of ourselves and produce a product that is deemed acceptable by external pressures and prejudices. There is a level of authenticity that is lost and has to be searched for and reclaimed as young queer people. As young adults growing into adulthood, we are tasked with going on journeys of self discovery which our hetrosexual counterparts in large have already experienced. This to me, has always felt like the queer community is forced to hold back itself in early formative years to ensure we are protected from external hatred. This is why this series is so deeply personal for each individual and handled with such honesty and care by Fulford, which in turn creates a safe space for self expression and an authenticity regarding LGBTQIA+ stories which is often hard to find within photography.