A man stands tall on a rooftop high up above a city—almost entirely naked. Behind him are row upon row of apartments and businesses, staggered among the hazy sky in a city far away from our own. But his underwear—rainbow striped and with the word “DIESEL” printed across the grey waistband in white block letters—tells me something more. I know this man. And you probably do, too.
That’s the exact kind of feeling 34-year-old queer photographer Sway wanted to evoke in her recent book, Queerography: Intimate Expressions of Culture. I visited Sway’s exhibit at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center during First Friday, which featured a selection of photographs from Queerography, each exploring different queer communities throughout Tokyo, Bangkok and Hong Kong.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Sway was traveling in Tokyo when she decided to stay in Asia for six months to work on her project, documenting and connecting with each city’s unique community of lesbians, drag queens and ladyboys, and venturing through love hotels, pride parades, dominatrix sessions and more. “It was important to me to create a space where they could express themselves as individuals and allow them to have a voice,” Sway says.
As I walk around the small room, taking the images in, each photograph is more striking than the last. Sway talks about the people in her photos not as subjects, but as friends—with parts of their stories shared in small paragraphs next to their photos. My favorite, a quote from a Tokyo woman named Katie, explains the project perfectly: “I felt alone and thought I had to love myself, but I didn’t know how. So I chose to believe that I am beautiful … A funny thing happened. My self-love turned inside out … and I realized that I was not alone anymore.”