“In order to get joy, you have to also experience pain,” photographer Jesse Glazzard tells me over a crackly phone call. “It’s not real if we don’t have that balance.”
An observational meditation on the many faces of intimacy, Glazzard’s first solo show beautifully communicates our multi-faceted human existence. Compiled over three years – and intertwining love, loss, change, and grief – this exhibition seeks not to represent or claim advocacy for any marginalised community, but rather to extend a simple offering for a queer and trans history. Questioning society’s tendency to prioritise certain forms of intimacy over others, Jesse places a gentle spotlight on the very essence of love, and coaxes a shared vulnerability from viewers, friends, and lovers, alike.
Glazzard’s selection for British Fashion Council New Wave 2023 was recently announced following the rise of a respected photography career. He has covered editorial features with publications ranging from British Vogue to King Kong – shooting covers with actors Emma Corrin for Interview Magazine and Kit Connor for DSECTION – and worked with brands such as Calvin Klein, Adidas, and Axel Arigato.
But For Love or Nothing is something more. It’s a diary; a personal story of not only Jesse’s own journey since 2021, but also that of his collaborators, friends, partners – and ex-partners. It’s a tender exploration of authentic connection and expression; of a queer existence that reclaims a narrative beyond the confines of language or identity. In a society where those in power still decide what is etched into our history books, Jesse’s snapshots of everyday life take back that power and transform it into care.
Ahead of the show’s opening on Wednesday 1st November, I speak with Jesse about his intentions, processes, and hopes.
I think it’s important that, as queer people, when we look at our own imagery, we see love and we see care.
Prishita: Firstly, congratulations on your first solo show, ‘For Love or Nothing’! What does this title mean to you?
Jesse: It’s just an ADHD response to how I exist. I’m either in something fully and obsessively, or I’m not in it at all – and it made sense because the exhibition is about relationships. I actually wrote it on my studio wall six months ago when I was trying to think about what I would call my book if I published one. I’ve been so obsessed with my photography that it does feel like it’s coming from a place of love. I’ve not really made much money from being a photographer, so I have to love it to continue doing it.
It’s clearly a real labour of love! This exhibition is about both romantic and platonic relationships, right? What’s the importance to you of centring these different forms of intimacy through your work, especially in a world that prioritises romantic intimacy?
So, me and Nora broke up [laughing], and everyone’s like, “oh it looks like a break-up show.” But it’s completely not! I’ll still always love Nora and the care in those images is still there. I think it’s important that, as queer people, when we look at our own imagery, we see love and we see care.
I’ve learned from Buddhism that we should love everyone equally. The heteronormative world does put so much emphasis on romantic [intimacy] – but you should love your best mate just as much as you love someone you’re sleeping with! I think we put too much pressure on having just one person and that’s not really healthy. The thing about the queer community is that we have each other. There’s a sense of connection and love there. I don’t know if it exists in the hetero world, but I imagine it probably doesn’t in the same way.
Completely. Actually, as queer and trans people, I feel that intimacy of all kinds can be healing, especially if we grew up in environments where our whole self wasn’t accepted. What are your thoughts on this? Have you found intimacy to be healing to be in your life and in your work?
Yeah, I think so. More so now than before. My main thing is that I want people to feel like they can be vulnerable, but in a safe way. And that’s what intimacy is, ultimately.
I love that. I know you’ve long been photographing and recording the authentic faces and experiences of the queer community, beyond what is often still represented in the media and in popular culture. I’ve always thought that these portraits feel so intimate, so it’s interesting hearing you share that that’s a conscious goal for you. Do you take any tangible steps to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable?
We have a cup of tea, and we spend most of the time talking, and then the photos take like ten minutes. That feels like the most important part – having a chat, [asking] what’s going on with your life – rather than the actual image.
How do you navigate this process when you photograph yourself?
I’ll usually think about it for a day before, but then I’m just like, “Right, I need to do it right now”. But photographing myself felt really important because lots of people were asking to shoot me, but it didn’t feel like they could shoot me the way I wanted to be seen. I like having that power over my own image. Photography throughout history has been about power. So it feels nice that I can take the power back when it comes to myself. [laughing] But sometimes the photos come out shit and sometimes the photos come out good!
Have you read All About Love by bell hooks? She talks about how images are projected onto us, and we don’t really get a say sometimes. This is about me having a say. If you Google ‘trans photography’, it’s going to come up with stuff that feels hyper-focused on the body, like our scars. I don’t think that’s the most important thing.
Yeah, I mean it objectifies and fetishises trans people and bodies, rather than sharing the full range of human expression that we experience like anyone else.
It’s boring to just focus on identity. You have to go beyond that and to take power back, it’s important. When I first started out, I was talking about identity a lot, but now it feels a bit naive. I’m more interested in what’s beyond that; what are we other than that? I think Nan Goldin did that really well.
When I first started out, I was talking about identity a lot, but now it feels a bit naive. I’m more interested in what’s beyond that; what are we other than that?
Yeah, I love her work. I feel like it went further than this idea that queer people needed to be a singular thing to deserve respect and rights. It was important at the time to make that case, too, but I love that her photography wasn’t trying to prove anything. It was observational; it showed people just existing. It was so matter-of-fact, almost, despite being very intimate and emotional.
And she wasn’t trying to control it. When I first started, I was like, “I’m going to represent people”, but it was such a big weight to hold because the only person you can actually represent is yourself. And she wasn’t trying to represent anything; she was just shooting it. And that’s more where I’m at now.
That’s really beautiful, because as queer and trans creatives, we can really feel like we have to represent the whole community with everything we put out – that everything has to be a statement – and that we have to be so careful because everything can impact how society sees us. But there’s such a diverse experience, and we can only truly represent ourselves in that.
I guess there’s also a sense of responsibility for recording our lives, especially as our stories historically have been erased. The word ‘archive’ actually comes from an Ancient Greek word meaning ‘house of the ruler’ – which is just so interesting when you think about the power dynamics at play regarding what is recorded. Have you read In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado?
Is that the one where she speaks about how we also have to see queer people as bad? That really impacted me.
Yeah, yeah! It’s such a beautiful book about her abusive lesbian relationship. But in the introduction, she introduces the etymology for ‘archive’ and then writes that “what is placed in or left out of the archive is a political act”. Do you see your photography, recording the lives of these individuals in your life and the loves between you, as an archive?
Well, I guess time will tell! I really appreciate when people dig through archives, and they find the stuff that I personally wouldn’t find. I think anything can be found if someone is focussing hard enough on finding it – basically that anything has the power to be archived. I hope that someone finds my photography in the future; just some trans guy or trans woman looking for us, because we’re difficult to find.
I hope that someone finds my photography in the future; just some trans guy or trans woman looking for us, because we’re difficult to find.
Yeah, there’s some amazing stuff at the Bishopsgate Institute, but that’s exactly it, isn’t it? Those with power choose “what is placed in or left out of the archive.” And I feel like archives can also give you a better understanding of where you are now and how you got there.
Yeah, I think so. I feel like the most interesting projects are ones done over time. My mate’s shot someone for ten years now, and that’s amazing! I want to be doing that shit; I’m more interested in that now.
The stuff in this exhibition on Camp Trans is over a couple of years. I want to go to Camp Trans more – that project over 10 years, if it manages to last that long, would be insane.
Ah, Camp Trans looks amazing; I’d really like to try and go next year. What appeals to you about these long-term projects?
Yeah, you should come! I think [it’s] the slowness. We’re so concerned with going so fast all the time. It feels like it’s giving that space the respect to evolve and change; and it’s interesting to see a change. I think the Camp will change, which will be super interesting – and who will be given access to the space is also interesting.
Also, there’s something about queer timing – there’s something nice about things taking ages. Queer timing is slow, babes. It takes ages to figure out who we are. We should all be going much slower, even though it’s so hard in a capitalist society.
Yeah, it is hard, but I’ve been trying to teach myself to live slower. It feels important for our wellbeing. I have a couple of final questions for you. How do you hope people will feel when viewing your new exhibition?
I hope that they can feel present and intimate with the subjects and with my friends – I hope that they love my mates! And I really just hope that my friends like it as well, seeing themselves on a wall. It’s a nice place to see us rather than online all the time.
Completely. What do you hope people will take away from this exhibition?
I hope that people will be like, “right, I’m getting a fucking camera and documenting my mates!” It’s important that we document our own histories outside of an iPhone.
I love that, and I feel like I’m getting props from you because I got a film camera this year and have now got a physical album with little notes next to all the pictures.
I need to get one of those!
[laughing] It’s so cute. Thank you for your time, Jesse. I can’t wait to come see the exhibition. Bye!
FOR LOVE OR NOTHING, JESSE GLAZZARD will be exhibiting at 10 14 Gallery, London from November 2nd – 30th, 2023.
Prishita (they/them) is a writer, editor, and LGBTQ+ community organiser. They’re currently a Trustee with Voices4 London and sit on the Advisory Board for Split Banana, a social enterprise redesigning relationship and sex-ed by bringing in the perspectives of groups traditionally excluded from the curriculum. Prishita has been published or featured in METAL, gal-dem, Hunger, and Dazed, amongst others.
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