Belgium-based photographer Bea Uhart recently traveled to Budapest to attend a workshop with Magnum photographer Chris Steele-Perkins. When she was told to shoot a story within the week, and given no other guidelines, she ended up walking away with an intimate and touching project about the gay community of Budapest, which she titled “X-why.”
With “X-why,” I had a clear idea of what I was trying to do from the start – I wanted to tell a certain type of story and I needed to find the right tools to show everyday intimacy and vulnerability without posing it. The series contains a lot of images where hands play a very strong role in depicting those two key concepts.
While Bea definitely achieved what she set out to, the images are a deviation from a lot of her other work.
Stylistically, my “X-why” project is perhaps more intimate than the work I produce for commissions. This is mainly because I spent a week focusing on this project and nothing else, which creates an intensity and a connection that is unfortunately not possible in most commissioned work.
She was inspired to document the gay community during her stay in Budapest because she knew of their fairly oppressive government and the kind of social movements that can produce. While there, Bea was introduced to Lori and Yi Xing, who the project focuses on. She was able to approach it with a unique perspective that many photographers who document minority communities are not able to do. Being a member of the gay community herself, Bea wanted to show something different than the usual “courageous deadpan expression” by showing things that are not unusual at all.
X-why is about extracting the ‘novelty factor’ from the queer community and showing that these subjects are out and proud and activists within their communities but also spend a lot of their lives just getting on with it, socializing and creating intimate connections that look very much like those that straight people create! … I am a gay woman and that is sometimes empowering and it is occasionally difficult but it is mostly just very normal. I meet friends, I eat, I watch series, I read blogs and photography books… and I do a lot of that with my girlfriend.
One of her goals with personal work is to show something new to people, whether it’s in terms of content or approach. She also wants to explore how people see themselves and how they relate to the world around them.
I see that nowadays especially, so many people have conflicting identities, whether it be nationalities, gender, sexuality, sense of belonging (or not), online vs. offline personas… and that is really something that I want to tap into.
In addition to the complicated editing process, one of the most challenging things for Bea was creating the series in a workshop setting.
There was the ‘obligation’ to produce work every day as we had feedback sessions in the morning. As all photographers know, it can be so difficult to detach yourself from the emotional bond with certain images so having a discerning audience discard certain images unanimously or enjoy some I hadn’t cared for so much… is massively valuable. I loved it.
While people have responded very positively to work, the most important reactions came from Lori and Yi Xing.
I showed the final edit to my subjects first and they were happy so that was the main relief for me. My connection to them was so important to this project that I would have felt I had really missed something if they didn’t like it!
While she has no concrete plans to expand this specific project, Bea plans to incorporate future work with it to continually develop the theme of identity in her portfolio.
To see more of Bea’s work, check out her website.