Mitchell Moreno stages imagined ideal responses to gay hookup ads

View Gallery 5 Photos

The resulting images feature Moreno self-styled with props, including a latex mask, a fake pregnant belly, and an octopus

This article was published in issue #7890 of British Journal of Photography. Visit the BJP Shop to purchase the magazine here.

“I spend several hours a week searching gay and queer hookup ads – for my work, but also out of a fascination with the insights they pose about our human condition,” says Mitchell Moreno. “I’ve always been struck by the incredible specificity of the types of people and things that are requested on ‘men-for-men’ sites, and how this speaks more broadly to the ways in which gender, class and other identity categories are constructed and performed.”

In 2018, Moreno began scouring these sites, looking for ads that might be brought to life for their series, Body Copy. The first specification was that the advert had to be within Moreno’s physical range, to enable them to re-enact it. After that, it was anything that provoked particularly interesting questions. Taking the texts of each chosen advert – short missives such as ‘Looking for a living doll’ and ‘mummification’ – Moreno set about turning a small corner of their flat into a makeshift studio, gathering cheap props and second-hand clothes (“because everything is done on a shoestring budget”) and staging self-portraits as an “ideal” response to each one.

© Mitchell Moreno.
© Mitchell Moreno.
© Mitchell Moreno.

“I make the images alone, acting as designer, set painter, model and photographer,” Moreno explains. “As a working-class queer, I’m alert to expectations to perform class and gender in certain ways and in certain contexts, and I was interested in casting myself both to and against type.” The resulting images feature Moreno self-styled with props, including a latex mask, a fake pregnant belly, and an octopus. When asked if it’s important that the images are sometimes amusing, Moreno says, “I want to give my viewer something consequential to think about, but I also want to give them pleasure, and humour is a key part of that. Our bodies, our drives, our kinks – they are often absurd, so a series like this demands a sense of playfulness.”

© Mitchell Moreno.

Having had a decade-long career in theatre before arriving in photography, Moreno had a naturally performative impulse towards self-portraiture, but that hasn’t come without its constraints. “Generally, I dislike looking at myself in photographs, so this project has been challenging. I feel I’m more ‘convincing’ in some pictures than in others, but mostly I see a series of different characters rather than myself.” In almost every photograph Moreno gazes intently into the lens. The cable release is always visible, reinforcing the presence of the camera, and of those looking on.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London