But you’re not ugly

an exhibition by Therese Ritchie

Gallery Two Six Darwin 20–28 May 2016

I want to extend my respect and appreciation to the women who allowed me to interview and then photograph them. The subject matter and process that has lead to these images was acutely private and each woman is unique and stunning. It was a pleasure to ‘hold’ the process long enough for things to crystallize into the portraits that you see tonight.

The subject matter for these portraits is intricate and emotional and personal thoughts and conclusions about what they bring up are diverse. I respect that by stating now, that what I am going to say next is about me, I cannot speak on behalf of the women on the walls, I am pretty sure they can speak for themselves. 

Several people have asked me why I was not more succinct about, or did not own the fact that it was about women’s sexuality when promoting the show or in David’s press release. It’s a simple enough question, but the answer is complex and important for me to tease out here tonight. Quick answer though—I am protective of the work; the women; the process and the product’s overall integrity.

I wanted to protect the work from being contaminated by the deluge of public debaters that seem to pop up every time someone mentions homosexuality. I guarantee that if I had announced lesbianism, bisexuality, ‘coming out’ or gender fluid in a press release, things would probably have rolled like this:

“Mmmm … portraits of lesbians, bisexuals, the gender fluid. Ahh is gender fluid a homosexual? Hmm homosexuals … yes of course, same-sex marriage, they still after that? And … that Safe Schools Program... isn’t that encouraging pedophilia? Mmm now how DO they have children? IVF? Sperm donation? Surrogacy? … How does that work? Is that really normal?”  Soon people would be saying, “Hey let’s go and see that exhibition about bestiality!”

It’s people claiming to state facts or needing to ask reasonable questions about someone else’s sexuality that I want to bypass. It’s no accident that these people try to clump together ‘apparently’ related issues or ‘facts’ about marriage equality and parenting to education to surrogacy to having sex with animals. And it has nothing to do with a calm rational or civil discussion. It is a ruinous technique that distracts from the ultimate imposture and I don’t have time for the outrage or the subterfuge.

By making the choice not to label the work as being about anything in particular, I am not compromising or losing anything; I am just keeping the work’s purpose crystal clear. I don’t have a problem with calling a spade a spade or a ‘hetro’ a ‘hetro’. But I do have a problem with subterfuge because it’s strategic, socially condoned, violent, and a waste of time. What I do say to those people who have a truckload of reasons as to why I am ‘somehow unfeminine, ugly or not whole’, is that I know who you are. I have spent a lifetime—especially in my youth—being violated by your thoughts and actions. Gotten used to my sexuality—which is so private even I cannot describe it—being derided, tolerated or debated publicly or being on your minds or at your dinner table, or in your laws, or your books and churches. And I tell you this, your objection to me is not about science, biology, the law, environment, or religion; your objection to me is personal, you hold a personal dread you cannot admit to yourself—but cannot keep to yourself.

I am under no law but my own and I will not look for, or reach out to you unless you can have a significant conversation with me about respect, trust and human relationships.

And thus we come to what this show is about.

On the surface these photographs are about women coming out—some to a significant other, or others, some not—and some are their most memorable interactions about sexuality. A deeper meaning however is that they are portraits of transactions—portentous moments—between people; focusing on a person’s particular response to someone else’s telling of something intimate and previously ‘undeclared.’ They are portraits of human relationships, where trust, respect and boundaries shift when challenged.

The work is about what happens when we speak about something that could invite public shame, disbelief and scorn to someone we believe in or trust. How we are calling into question basic human relationships—and depending on the code of conduct and outcome—the attachments of family, friendships, love and community are at stake and can be easily breached.

It is about basic trust, which is the foundation of belief in society and the progression of life and how that trust can be trampled on when people are made invisible, trivialized, humiliated, derided, or seen as and spoken of, as somehow being ‘wrong’.

It is about our evolved democracy and how within it we have smaller systems of dictatorship that flourish within our families, friendships, schools, workplaces, institutions and religions and that these are public and private forms of organized social violence.

It is about how tyranny can exist in our private lives, and how we generally internalize it, we might spend a lot of our lives trying to make sense of it—or not, we might just wear it—in a lot of instances though, we can become amazing through its adversity.

It is about the moment when we are—or even the idea that we could be—betrayed by a source of comfort such as our family, society, religion, or friend, how we can trick ourselves into misperceiving pity or tolerance for acceptance or support; how we rarely contemplate ourselves worthy of admiration, appreciation or genuine affection and delight and how this type of self-deception can leave us feeling utterly alone.

It is about the people in our lives who do have the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—even without the benefit of consciousness raising or public awareness—and how this integrity is a natural loving state and ongoing character attribute and anything less is the result of a damaged or closed mind. It is about how this damage or ‘schism’ in an individual’s mind and personal integrity is left unchallenged and fed, how it grows up, snide and feral, habitually polluting social values and ambushing our lives.

Thank you and welcome to But you’re not ugly.