During August 2020, aspiring film photographer and videographer Niamh Barry posted a series of photographs to her Instagram account (@narryphotographyvids), entitled Queer Hearts of Dublin. The project aims to reflect the vibrant queer community in Dublin in a diverse and inclusive manner. Barry, aged 22, photographed 15 queer young people from an array of backgrounds, including a self-portrait as the final shot.
With a keen interest in videography from an early age, Barry admits she had always preferred the medium to photography: “I just didn’t connect with it as much as I did with video. I always kind of saw it as this really stringent thing.” That was until a friend posted a photo from a disposable camera to their Instagram account just over a year ago and she thought “that’s really cool,I love film, I love the way it looks.” A trip to Canada shortly afterwards introduced her to a new style of photography. “I really got into street photography over there, that’s kind of mainly what I do.” Barry emphasised how joining the DU Photography Association (DUPA) boosted her confidence as a photographer. “It was really nice to be around people who also took photos because [I] felt embarrassed about it.” Having built her confidence and found a style that works for her, she was ready to take on a new project.
Having been away from Dublin for seven months, Barry confessed she felt “out of touch with the queer community in Dublin”. Having studied gender, sexuality and intersectionality on an exchange in Boston, Barry was eager to incorporate what she had learned into her next project. “In Dublin I feel like the staple queer image is the cis white male…it’s a hegemonic image that we need to reconstruct in our minds.” Hoping to tackle this lack of diverse media representation, Barry wanted to create an intersectional image which accurately reflects the queer community in Dublin. She hopes to offer “an opportunity for people to reconsider what they associate with queerness in Ireland”.
Having studied gender, sexuality, and intersectionality on an exchange in Boston, Barry was eager to incorporate what she had learned into her next project.
In order to make this vision a reality, certain logistics needed to be considered in accordance with Covid-19 regulations. Barry offers an optimistic insight into how creativity can still thrive, even during a global health crisis. By ensuring that social distancing and face-covering guidelines were adhered to at all times, the shoot was a safe and successful one. “It was never an issue, everyone just completely understood.”
Along with shooting fellow members of the queer community, Barry made the decision to include a self-portrait. As a queer woman herself, listening to the perspectives of others in the community inspired her to include her own. “It made me realise my own privileges, and I don’t want anything to hold me back anymore.” Including herself in the project meant coming out to her family before it was posted online. “I knew they kind of knew, but I wanted to officially tell them.” She describes the concept of coming out as “an essentialistic way of looking at queerness.” She notes that in order to be openly queer “[one has] to do this thing that straight people don’t have to do”, while also recognising that coming out can be a safety net for some.
She notes that in order to be openly queer “you have to do this thing that straight people don’t have to do”, while also recognising that coming out can be a safety net for some.”
The finished project fulfils Barry’s initial vision for diversity and intersectionality. With perspectives from queer people of different ethnicity and gender, among many other diverse perspectives, the vibrancy and expansiveness of Dublin’s queer community shines through. “With the Black Lives Matter movement and people really paying attention to Direct Provision, I think intersectionality is so important.” The experiences of Mimi, a queer woman of colour, resonated profoundly with Barry. “Mimi not only has to deal with coming out…she also has to deal with race issues that I don’t have to deal with.” She again stresses the importance of intersectionality, especially in the queer community. “Things can overlap, people are oppressed in different ways. Acknowledge your privilege.”
This intersectionality is essential in tackling the micro- and macro-aggressions the queer community in Ireland face on a daily basis. Barry notes that “the fetishization of queer women is so bad and I don’t think people are aware of it”, citing just one example of the casual homophobia in Irish society. In the caption to her self-portrait, Barry discusses internalised homophobia, which she believes is still present in the community due to these micro-aggressions. “You might come from a really accepting background like me…you still hear those passive-aggressive things.”
“In the caption to her self portrait, Barry discusses internalised homophobia, which she believes is still present in the community due to these micro-aggressions.”
Barry stresses the importance of diverse representation in tackling homophobia, at both the micro and macro level. Our current lack thereof is cause for concern. “I’ve never seen a queer person of colour in Irish media.” She notes again that the image of queerness presented in Irish media is largely homogenous. “It’s the male identity that’s consistently shown, if it’s shown. We’re tired of it.” With the recent success of Irish shows like Normal People, Barry is hopeful that more funding will be given to artistic projects, creating new opportunities for diversity. She urges people to support local artists as “it’s the way to make sure we’re getting that representation”.
Barry describes art itself as “a huge tool” for creating acceptance and tackling prejudice in society. “I think art makes people stop and think, and changes the way they might view something.” She understands that art can be especially useful in tackling micro-aggressions as “there’s not going to be policies against micro-aggression, so art is what can change culture”.
“Barry describes art itself as “a huge tool” in creating acceptance and tackling prejudice in society.”
The response to the project so far has been “extremely positive”. Messages of support have been flooding into Barry’s Instagram page, with many thankful to see their identity represented. “People were like ‘I’ve never seen this before in Irish culture, let alone queer culture’”. The project will be displayed in an exhibition this autumn at Hen’s Teeth, a gallery-store-diner on Merchant’s Quay. The gallery told her that “it was such an honour to have it” and waved the space fee. The success of the project has surprised and elated its creator. “I never really had expectations for it, I don’t think I realised it could be what it is now.”
To fund the printing of the photographs, Barry set up a Gofundme page, which reached its target in just a few hours. The surplus raised will go to MASI, a movement of asylum seekers in Ireland seeking to end Direct Provision.
“To fund the printing of the photographs, Barry set up a Gofundme page, which reached its target in just a few hours.”
Barry hopes Queer Hearts of Dublin can show people the power of vulnerability. “It’s almost like a gift that someone is being vulnerable with you and they don’t even know you.” She hopes this openness can provide a space for “realising your privileges and listening to the stories of other people”.