“The self is not nearly as solid and definitive as it is abstracted and ephemeral,” writes curator and artist Efrem Zelony-Mindell in their introduction to n e w f l e s h, a publication that explores what queerness looks like beyond the human form. “Behind the skin is more than a man or a woman. There’s a person — a human — full of so many parts, feelings, and ideas. Photography can personify the forming of these personal characteristics,” he continues.
Comprising lens-based work by 68 artists, n e w f l e s h forces us to look beyond the familiar, at the abstraction a camera is capable of achieving, and what images can represent about gender and identity. “I want people to come to it with their own ideas and own theories,” says Zelony-Mindell, explaining how the project was born out of a dissatisfaction with conventional images that depict gay and queer people through idealised or sexualised human bodies. “I thought that if this was what was parading around as the standard, I have a problem with that. But rather than be repelled by it, I wanted to lean into that discomfort.”
Published and designed by Jason Koxvold’s New York publishing imprint, Gnomic Book, n e w f l e s h is deceptively light, weighing just 620 grams, with a Coptic binding that opens up and gives value to each spread and image. The cover comprises a copper rectangle, which, if you lean in close enough, is reflective. “I’ve been enjoying the selfies that people have been sending. It really furthers that idea of bringing yourself and your ideas into the conversation that is explored inside,” says Zelony-Mindell. The artwork is broken up by essays from curators Charlotte Cotton and Ashley McNelis, which reflect on the role of photography in this new discourse.
The featured artists include Delaney Allen, David Brandon Geeting, Sarah Palmer, Eva Stenram, Kenta Cobayashi, Daniel Shea, Ruth van Beek, Sara Cwynar, Vasantha Yogananthan, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya. “Everyone is excited to be part of this conversation, and to be next to other artists they look up to,” says the curator. “One thing that flatters me most is artists who have said that they wanted their work to be spoken about in terms of body, identity and gender politics.”
Zelony-Mindell began the project around three years ago. At first, they were mostly collecting images that represented their own taste and aesthetic in the context of queerness and gender identity. “But as I started to develop the concept, I realised that it was about more than just my taste. Taste is about candy bars, it has its place, but I wanted to expand on the conversation,” they say. “I like the idea of pushing the boundaries of both the concepts and the ideologies that n e w f l e s h deals with.”
Three years ago, Zelony-Mindell published a portfolio of nine works in Dear Dave magazine, which accompanied a show at the RUBBER FACTORY in New York’s Lower East Side. This summer, to accompany the publication of the book, a second iteration of the show featuring 22 artists was presented at The Light Factory in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I wanted to keep up the idea of the same thesis and idea for the show but I want the artists to be changing,” says Zelony-Mindell, explaining how he hopes to feature different work in the exhibitions and publications that will follow. As the conversation surrounding gender identity and queerness moves forward, so too will the work that explores it: ” Every part of n e w f l e s h adds a different layer or addresses a different part of the conversation.”