Joy, tenderness and intimacy are celebrated by artists in London

Photography and film-based artists currently based at Gathering, London, explore human experience in ‘Pictures of Us’

Matthew Arthur Williams, Soon Come, 2022 Still from dual channel film and sound installation 20mins 25secs
(Image credit: Image courtesy of the artist)

For the collective of photography and film-based artists currently based at Gathering, communion is at the heart of human experience. ‘Pictures of Us’ spans the work of interdisciplinary artists who collectively embrace a profound vulnerability, using their lenses to chronicle the emotional resonance of shared histories and social resistance. It’s a celebration of many things - kinship, visibility, care, love, friendship, memory, and resistance - but above all else, ‘Pictures of Us’ is a celebration of intimacy. 

‘The inspiration behind the show was to encourage and inspire people to think about collective humanity,’ explains curator Lewis Dalton Gilbert, ‘showcasing different examples of human experience that we can hopefully all empathise with, whilst also exploring more complex subjects that should affect us all whether or not we can identify with them.’ 


(Image credit: 'Pictures of Us', Gathering, London, 1 December 2023 - 13 January 2024. Photography: Ollie Hammick. Courtesy of Gathering, London)

This is especially true of Sabelo Mlangeni’s series, The Royal House of Allure (2020), for which the artist spent six weeks photographing members of a queer safe house in Lagos. Mlangeni tells the story of Allure through the shifting rhythms of quiet togetherness that structure communal living - and he uses a similar language to photograph the inhabitants of the George Goch Men's Hostel on the East Rand of Johannesburg, too. ‘Mlangeni’s images resonate because the artist takes time to form intimate and meaningful relationships,’ Gilbert says, ‘as illustrated through the pictures he takes as well as the image of him as the sitter smiling with another member of the community -  reflective of the trust required between a photographer and their subject, and vice versa.’ 


Alberta Whittle, I is for the illusion of inclusion, 2017 C-type digital collage, diasec mounted on aluminium

(Image credit: Image courtesy of the artist)

Mlangeni’s portraits hang alongside works by Lotte Andersen, Genesis Báez, Jess T. Dugan, Bernice Mulenga, Tourmaline, Vivek Vadoliya, Alberta Whittle, and Matthew Arthur Williams. Together, these works chart the richness and depth of queer life - how these lives intersect and commune throughout time and space. In Anderson’s Tweeky (2022) and Gotcha (2022), she reflects on the role of the editor-archivist by inviting viewers to engage in a process of materialisation through her three-dimensional photographic puzzles and collages. Printed images on pine and acrylic blocks, the viewer is invited to use a playful tactility to intervene with the ways in which the memories and narratives they hold are communicated, participating in a process of repeated fragmentation. Filmmaker and Tourmaline similarly uses self-portraiture as conduit to ‘freedom dream’, meticulously chronicling Black trans and queer histories like in their ethereal Silver Cloud I (2022).

Gilbert recognises that, alongside this lucid portrayal of queer joy, there’s an honesty and tenderness behind each of the works in ‘Pictures of Us’. Báez and Dugan’s photographs explore this very idea, showing how skin, light, and touch have become a language all of their own, fundamental to how we connect with and love one another. It’s precisely this vulnerability that makes these images so poignant and vital. ‘All of the artists in the exhibition depict moments of joy, sensitivity, tenderness, and fragility without exploiting their subjects,’ Gilbert says. But it’s only through photography and film we are granted this access to this, capturing their ‘experiences and emotions like no other medium’ can.

‘Pictures of Us’ will run 1 December 2023 until 13 January 2024 at Gathering, London


Genesis Baez, Parting (Braid), 2021 Print on archival sintra

(Image credit: Image courtesy of the artist)

Katie Tobin is a culture writer and a PhD candidate in English at the University in Durham. She is also a former lecturer in English and Philosophy.