Happy Together: John Paul Evans and His Husband in a Series of Alternative Family Portraits
Photo artist and professor, used to teach photography at the University of Wales. Lives and works in Devon County. Investigates the theme of gender stereotypes in his work. Exhibited his works inside the country and internationally. In 2016, won a prestigious Hasselblad Masters of Photography Award.
John Paul and his Peter have been together for 28 years. Because of the considerable age difference of 27 years, together they look more like father and son, and for many people their union is probably not their idea of an ideal family.
— The idea of representing two men in ordinary dark suits and ties is an attempt to avoid the stereotype of gay men being flamboyant. In this sense, I think the ‘ordinary’ is transgressive. And what seemed impossible yesterday, becomes ordinary with time.
The Matrimonial Ties idea started with a series of images ‘home & away’, which were initially inspired by the media debate in Britain in 2013 surrounding the proposal of full marriage rights for same sex partners. Some people talked as though their world would never be the same again. So, through a set of improvised poses, I decided to represent a male couple literally as outsiders to the family home looking in through the windows and glazed door panels.
The images depict my partner Peter and myself posing and performing for the camera. The images are various permutations or perspectives on the couple/marriage/wedding portrait. The work has evolved into numerous projects which are given the umbrella title Matrimonial Ties. One interview described it as a love letter from me to Peter, which is a nice thought. Even though the work is staged, I would hope there is a comic poignancy to the images. I am just preoccupied with the thought that the last 28 years have gone in the blink of an eye…as the song says ‘who knows where the time goes’.
I am grateful to have grown up in a country where freedom of speech is central to our democracy. This has been fought for over centuries and it is important that religion plays no direct role in the politics of the United Kingdom. While people still hold strong religious convictions of various faiths, I am glad that our political culture is largely secular. While sections of the church have been allowed to opt out of gay marriage, I think it is important that same sex couples should be afforded equal rights under the law. This was the point of introducing the gay marriage bill in 2013, as the civil partnership, which has already existed since 2001, was not recognized under international law, whereas marriage is internationally recognized.
I have always worked with self-portraiture. But as an academic, I have always been critical of what the family photo album represents in terms of affirming ideas of the heterosexual couple as the happy family. Therefore, there is little photographic evidence of the domestic life that Peter and I have shared over the last 28 years. As Peter is now in his late 70s, there seemed to be an urgency to perform for the camera if nothing else but to leave a trace of our presence in this world. As Peter now has various age-related ailments, including arthritis, keeping still for slow shutter speeds can be quite challenging at times.
Generally, the people that contact me are positive about my work. I do remember that when it was covered on the CNN site in America, there was a comment saying that two men together was ‘sick’ but this was removed quickly. Personally, I would rather those comments were left online as it reflects that some people still have problems with homosexuals.
As an academic, my area of interest is in the way photography has been deployed historically to reinforce notions of gender in terms of belonging and otherness. It has been argued within feminism and queer theory that depictions of people of race and gender are needed in a white male-dominated society to reinforce ideas of patriarchy as normality. However, I am sure that wedding photography will move with the times and embrace marriage and partnership of whatever shape or form.