Tatjana Plitt won the third prize in the 2013 theme category Extremely Normal, with her photo series Gay Warriors. She is an Australian artist and photographer with almost ten years of experience. Her work has been exhibited in Australia, USA, and as of this year in The Netherlands.
Gay Warriors is an audacious series of portraits of same-sex couples in the US military. Through them, Tatjana is questioning both our present-day notion of ‘traditional’ marriage and the historical view on war heroes.
Gay Warriors © Tatjana Plitt
How did the idea behind Gay Warriors come into being?
It was a coming together of my interest in identity politics, love, war and contradictions. As far as contradictions go, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was up there, which allowed gay and lesbian soldiers to serve in the military, as long as they hid that part of themselves. I wanted to meet the individuals who were deeply committed to a cause that required them to sacrifice a significant part of their identity. I came to understand that for many, being a soldier was as much a part of their identity as being gay or lesbian and they didn’t want to have to choose between the two. Now that both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defence of Marriage Act have been repealed, they no longer have to.
Was it hard to find American gay and lesbian couples in the army willing to take part in a photography project?
Not as difficult as I thought it would be. The time I undertook the project happened to be one of great anticipation, just before the Supreme Court would decide whether the Defence of Marriage Act would be repealed. Many people in the LGBT military community were, or wanted to be, involved in marriage equality activism. Once I found online communities like the American Military Partner’s Association and Freedom to Marry, the volunteers for my project came flooding in and everybody was very supportive in helping to make my project come to fruition. However, I often heard from the couples I photographed that there were other gay of lesbian soldiers who didn’t want to participate in my project because they still weren’t comfortable coming out to the military.
Why did you choose the bedroom as a setting?
When associated with the LGBT community, the bedroom has been a symbol for homosexual ‘Otherness,’ reduced to an eroticized space, overlooking the additional aspects of human experience it represents: birth, death, illness, nurturing, rest, renewal. My aim with Gay Warriors was for the bedroom to become a symbol of normality and belonging. Each couple and each bedroom is unique, but by seeing each couple in the same intimate context, it is their humanity, not their ‘Otherness’ that is most striking.
Would you say that today there is a real mentality change in US military in terms of how gay soldiers are perceived?
There is a significant change in the military’s approach to the rights of the gay soldiers and the way they educate the military community about equality. I’ve heard many stories from soldiers about how they have been perceived and treated since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011; for the most part, it has given people the opportunity to openly express their acceptance and welcome of the LGBT community in the military. Of course that is not true for everybody and some people’s attitudes are slow to change. Gay soldiers still experience difficulties ranging from worrying about promotional opportunities if they come out, to uncomfortable moments when soldiers bring their spouse to a military event for the first time. But I believe the more people interact and work side by side openly, the deeper the mentality change will become.
You favour portraits, as a genre. However, your portraits seem to have an equal dose of reality and fantasy. Do you guide your subjects to get a certain pose?
Definitely. My art has largely been photographing real people, rather than models, in highly posed, stylised ways. I am interested in the intricate relationship between cultural symbols/narratives and our most personal, seemingly innate feelings, responses and values. Posing real people in reference to specific cultural narratives reveals something of this relationship. In Gay Warriors, I asked couples to pose in a fashion reminiscent of 17th century Flemish marriage portraits to explore how values towards love, marriage and war have fluctuated through time.
See the full Gay Warriors series, together with all 2013 awarded photographs.

Interview by Claudia Vendrik

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.


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