British photographer John Paul Evans’ innovative and moving still-life image of his own marriage to another man, from the series Till Death Us Do Part, is amongst the winners of the prestigious Hasselblad Masters Award.
The Welsh-born photographer and academic, now based in Devon, has spent his career exploring gender and queer representation in photography.
“My photographic work stems from an overall interest in gender representation and the polemics of representing men under patriarchy,” Evans tells BJP of the series.
“Till Death Us Do Part is a project that encompasses varied responses and challenges to the historical and cultural significance of the wedding portrait.
“The works originated as a personal reflection on the current state of social change in Britain and Europe around notions or definitions of marriage.
“The political debate that’s taken place around gay marriage over the last couple of years triggered in me a desire to explore this genre with my then civil partner, and now married partner, Peter,” Evans tells BJP.
“From an academic point of view I was critical of the way that photography is used to reinforce concepts of the family and normality. As a consequence, I have very few images of the 26 years that Peter and I have spent together.
“As I am now entering my 50s and Peter is in his late 70s, there was an urgency to address this in my own mind and create alternatives to the couple, wedding and family portrait.
“Our performance of various permutations of the wedding portrait is a way of addressing this for me in creating an alternative family and wedding album, and leaving a trace of our presence in the world.
“I am aware that Peter and I are not what would be considered as an ideal couple by mainstream media. There is a 27-year age difference and in real life we have sometimes been confused as father and son. But that is the reality of my ‘lived’ experience, and on one level I see these works as a personal memoir. It was all of these differences and visual discrepancies that made me want to explore an ongoing body of images that reflect on a couple that in some ways seem like outsiders or alien as a metaphor for the concept of otherness.
“So long as people understand the images as a tragi-comic series of images of figures in different points in their personal chronology, who can never grow old together. Roland Barthes talked about our desire to record our loved ones through the photographic image when, in fact, the image only represents their passing in time as we can never regain the moment frozen for the camera. Therefore, he argues, the camera can only record death.
“I don’t mean this to sound as dark as it seems on the surface, which is one reason for employing playfulness and comedy, so that the images might seem more playfully melancholic rather than straightforward tragedy.”