Steven

I meet up with Steven outside Glasgow’s Hillhead subway station at around 12:30. It’s me who’s stuttering apologetically, trying not to admit that I’m late because I’d had a skinful the night before and previously struggled to wake up for the occasion. He stretches out a firm hand, and offers an earnest and genuinely sympathetic smile. “I almost went out last night for “DILF” (that should explain itself), but I didn’t. I totally get it,” he says. 

Steven is a creative in his late 20s. His work is primarily concerned with alternative process photography, including cyanotype work, one of which recently featured Steven printing a ‘digital negative’ of his face before exposing it to make a positive cyanotype. I feel like for photographers working with film, we tend to naturally curtly ‘mansplain’ features of photography to people, but I instantly knew that Steven knew far more about the bare bones of photography than I. 

At first glance, he's amiable, friendly and, slightly paradoxically, an introverted extrovert, seemingly busy in self-analysis but eager to share the results. I instantly picked up on the warmth and kindness of his character, a natural and sympathetic conversationalist who believes in the support and community that composing and performing art can provide the individual; artists support artists, it’s through collaboration that we can be at our best. 

Regarding Steven’s thoughts on gender, he filters his analysis through art’s introspective and retributive qualities. “Gender to me, in its simplest form - is a label,” he explains. “A coping mechanism created by our social situation, a construct used by organisations to compartmentalise who we are, or who we think we are - or even who we want to be.” 

Tying that to view of many progressives that we are footsoldiers in a battle for acceptance and diversity, he states, “We are shown by the world that ignorance is alive and kicking in the fight for gender equality,” he muses, “but with the new generations come new ideas and new ways of being - courageous people are breaking the rules and creating new paths to walk, that’s the world I want to live in.” 

At the moment, I don’t think there’s the time for pessimism in a heart as open and passionate as Steven’s. 

Steven appears to link his subjective experiences of being male to subconscious and all-encompassing gendered upbringing.

“Sometimes I honestly don’t really feel like gender has an impression on me when I interact with the world," he says. "I think because I’m a man, I have subconsciously learned the behaviours of a man in regards to style, appearance and the surface stuff, my veneer I suppose (nice one, Steven), it’s a strange one because I feel like a man in myself, and even though I’ve conformed to the ‘norm’ with some things I do have ‘feminine qualities,’ which likely act in total contrast to the veneer I outwardly present.

Perhaps taking himself by surprise to which his own feminine qualities break through his face to the world, he explains: “I think the hardest thing when considering gender is being able to see yourself through the eyes of someone else, and how to match the expectation. I suppose that’s what masculinity is...fulfilling an expectation of yourself and the outside world simultaneously.”

"I suppose that's what masculinity is...fulfilling an expectation of yourself and the outside world simultaneously."

As most of us who accept and evaluate the constantly reinforced socialisation of the act of ‘being’ a certain gender, or lack thereof, Steven links lived experience of gender to sexuality and what we want from others. “I think being a gay man has meant that at points in my life I have had to hold back on who I am,” Steven explains, “mainly through fear of what might happen if I did something revealing. In those moments, those moments of fear, my gender was never a question, but the place of my sexuality was a bigger burden.” 

“As a teen I didn't see myself as a man because I am gay - men fuck women, are angry, like lifting stuff up and putting it back down - I didn't like any of that, so I didn't feel like a man, but I have always identified anatomically as a man.” Being male, for Steven, would appear to be a primarily biological asset, as his struggle to inhabit a societally dominant view being ‘a man’ no doubt echos many of the fears and insecurities that us as queer, or non-hetero individuals, have felt at some point in our lives.

"Men fuck women, are angry, like lifting stuff up and putting it back down - I didn't like any of that, so I didn't feel like a man."

Hearing (and likely subconsciously identifying) with these concerns, I ask Steven of his worries and fears, both long-term and short-term. Steven, no doubt revealing some of a heart loyal to a kind of romanticism, simply replies: “I am worried that a life without love will be in vain.”

Going on, he voices material concerns as his greatest and most pressing concern: “I feel that my financial position is my greatest vulnerability, I must rely on the mercy of other people, otherwise I'm on the street.” Steven’s situation is far from the exception, with LGBT individuals making up over a quarter of young homeless people in the UK, meaning they’re around seven times over-represented amongst the homeless.

For Steven, big-city life, with its better access to arts, opportunities and more liberal attitudes towards both sexuality and gender, is a central driver in terms of where he wants to be and what excites him for the future. 

However, for him, it’s the act of seeing beyond his current situation which operates as barrier, as he states, “I want to be in Glasgow, it’s been a dream since I was a child,” he says, “but I’m finding it hard to be excited about the future because all I can see is darkness,” a heart-rending and earnest statement but one uttered without even an ounce of self-pity, spoken instead like one trying to navigate through life with their hands outstretched in the dark.

An issue I’ve had personal experience with, I can identify with the psychological ramifications of unemployment, the feelings of worthlessness, feelings of giving up, feelings that your life simply isn’t worth living because of a near-constant implicit teachings that being an active participant in work and forging a strong and stable career path amount to a raison d’etre for the human experience. Incorrect though it may be, it’s easy to start believing that without work, you are nothing. 

Steven lets on further that he has felt those very same feelings, his exclamation that “I am proud that I tried before I turned bitter - but I'm ashamed that I let the world break me,” belays a belief that his dedication to his craft presented something, a passion that life subsequently has tried hard to extinguish. (I feel a need as the interviewer to add that Steven’s work is on-going and consistently inspirational in its rigor.) Sensing an all-too familiar urge to descend into the abyss of creative anxiety and self-doubt, I ask what kind of man he is at this point in his life…

“I am a man who needs love.”

Words/Photography by Liam Harrison
All shots on Mamiya RB67 with Portra 400 Film.

Steven's work can be found over on his instagram.

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