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Interview: Photographer Lee Price

Friday 22 November 2013

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Words Spindle

Last month we headed out to the exhibition of the Photographic Award with Magnum Photos to marvel at the talent of the 18 shortlisted photographers who intimately explore themes of journey, human relationships, climate, conflict and memory.

After being plied with red wine and snacks of wasabi and prawn, we got down to the business of finding our favourite. It seemed the best had been reserved until last, as we found the work of Lee Price from the 23-30 age category tucked away at the back of the maze of white exhibitions stands. Here we were confronted by surreptitiously obtained images that shed light on a veiled world of homosexuality. Determined to know more about this series, we invited Lee Price to interview.

Can you talk us through the concept behind ‘Sex with Strangers’?
The project takes a fairly sympathetic look into the underground world of gay cruising areas, bathhouses and public locations frequently used by ‘closeted’ homosexuals who for whatever reason feel the need to conceal their sexuality and engage in sexual activity with one another in complete discretion.

What measures did you take to execute each photograph in the series?
A website called Squirt.org proved the most vital tool in finding out about the locations and the best times to visit, and then it was just a case of finding them and sitting tight with my fingers crossed. I spent an uncomfortable amount of time hanging out in public toilets, waiting for activity to occur that I’d be able to document. A huge aspect of the image-making process was waiting, actually, and I often returned home at the end of an evening without a single image. As you can imagine, the majority of the men I met weren’t happy to be photographed, so where possible I photographed candidly without them being aware, adding a very voyeuristic aspect to the project.

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Have you ever been caught taking photos like this?
There was an incident towards the beginning of the project where I was sat in a toilet cubicle in the Sheffield train station with my camera placed on the floor looking out under the door. Two men were playing with each other at the urinal so I fired few shots on my (rather noisy) 35mm camera. They must have heard the shutter because one of them scarpered out the door and the other entered the cubicle next to me, stood on the toilet and peered over the side to confront me. He was pretty angry and threatened to call the police, but I knew he wouldn’t; they’d be more inclined to charge him than me. Thankfully he was interrupted by someone entering the toilets, and so he left.

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What techniques did you employ to ensure your images would be tasteful despite their documentation of ‘illicit’ behaviour?
Well the project is as much about the places in which the act of cruising occurs as the cruising itself, so a good portion of the imagery looks at the empty spaces and the visual clues left by the people that visit them; graffiti on a wall, lubrication wrappers in a bush, a pair of boxer shorts on the roof of a public toilet. When photographing the sexual behaviour though, one technique I employed was the use of long exposures to blur the subjects, not only to retain modesty, but also to conceal their identities.

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If you could board a plane tomorrow to further develop ‘Sex with Strangers’, where would you go and why?
I’m planning a six-week trip to Uganda beginning in February, funded by Ideastap and Magnum as part of the final process of their Photographic Award competition. The project, Against the Order of Nature, will look at the prejudices affecting homosexuals out there as well as the reasons for the stark contrast to Western culture in regards to attitudes towards the gay community. It will sort of serve as an extension to Sex with Strangers, and cruising is one aspect I intend to cover out there.

Which photographers do you look to for inspiration?
The first photographer whose work I fell in love with was Corrine Day. Her book Diaries really inspired an interest in using a camera to document the world, and before picking it up all I wanted to photograph was glossy fashion ads. Sally Mann, though, has to be the photographer whose work I most appreciate. She has a really intimate approach to storytelling, and explores subject matters of a wonderfully dark nature; aging, memory, death. Her playfulness with photographic techniques and aesthetics is something I really admire.

As your photography career develops what other aspects of social life will you look to record?
Being gay, the current worldwide struggle for gay rights is an issue that’s pretty close to home for me, and it’s one that I feel needs addressing for obvious reasons. The topic of attitudes towards sexuality will probably dominate my work for the next few years, and it’s difficult to say what issues I might take an interest towards in the future. I’ve always been fascinated by religion and the impact it has on society, so that may be something I look at exploring in the future, but who knows.

How can we follow your future work?
A collection of my personal and up-to-date work can be found at lee-price-photography.com.

I’ll also be keeping an extensive blog to document my experiences in Africa, so if you’d like to stay informed of the project’s progress beginning in February 2014, visit againsttheorderofnature.com

Take a look at some more pics from Sex With Strangers below.

Words: Laura Yuen

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