Queer Hearts of Dublin captures stunning portraits of LGBT+ youth

Creator, 22 year-old Niamh Barry, shared how the process of making the series actually inspired her to come out to her own family.

A topless young man seen from behind

Queer Hearts of Dublin, an incredible new photo series by Niamh Barry, is a gorgeous look at the lives and experiences of LGBT+ youth. The stunning portraits are also accompanied by intimate conversations with the subjects which are both enthralling and enlightening.

Niamh shared her inspirations for creating the project, the unique problems involved in creating the series during the pandemic and the responsibility of trust, alongside her own journey of coming out to her family.

As Niamh elaborates, “Queer Heart of Dublin is a project which explores one’s comfort within their queerness and the area around them. It was inspired by the desire for self-love and discovery. This project has been my most personal yet and provided me with the encouragement to finally tell my family I am queer.”

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Queer Hearts of Dublin – Mimi, @mariam.irl , she/her – 120mm film, medium format “Being a person of colour in Ireland, you don’t see a lot of people who look like you. Even more so if you're queer. Dublin is one of few exceptions to that. I don’t feel stifled by the small town mentality in Dublin and I don't feel judged by a tightly knit religious black community. It’s the first place I didn’t feel watched and no one cared about those differences. Instead, I was embraced for them. Before, the idea of kissing girls in public was a foreign concept for me. And now, it’s something I don’t even bat an eyelid at. In Dublin, I get to escape a lot of the cultural shame around being gay, not just because religiously it’s considered a sin. But culturally when things are strictly patriarchal, there’s no place for it. I’ve liked girls for as long as I can remember and now I love being in a place where you're accepted and get to meet people who are so much like you. However, Dublin isn’t perfect and I know that my experience does not reflect everyone else’s. But having Dublin as an option of a safe space is a privilege for me and I’m so thankful for that privilege because Dublin is where I fully discovered myself. It made me realise I am different from who I’ve been led to believe I should be, whether that’s the stereotype of black women or the cultural expectations of being Nigerian, which is a country with tightly held religious values. Overall, I have grown so much because of it and confronted a lot of internalised homophobia. Most importantly, I have also realised the fetishisation is not a compliment and micro aggression does occur quite a bit within Dublin. I think for the most part, I now live a shameless life with the utmost honesty and I will continue to make strides in that direction.”

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The project hit the ground running due to the limited timeframe in which Niamh had to both source and photograph her subjects. The pandemic obviously introduced an added set of problems. She explains, “Because I was only in Dublin for 10 days during July and had only that exact amount of time to shoot everything, I resorted to Instagram and Twitter to get the word out there about looking for people to be in the project. I had over 40-50 responses which was insane! But I made sure that people were aware that I was trying to shoot a range of faces from the community and not the same white cis male identity which we always associate with the queer community in Ireland.

“I also made it clear in the post there would be social distancing as I have vulnerable people at home in Cork. It was never an issue with anyone. There was a mutual understanding there, safety-wise. And because most of the photos were taken outside, it was easy to be at a distance. If it was in someone’s home, I asked for their permission and made sure to sanitize and keep my distance. I then wore a mask where it was necessary. Safety and comfort was my number priority for shooting this project.”

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Queer Hearts of Dublin – Ren they/she – 120mm film, medium format – @thefourthwitch “Being queer is intrinsic to my human experience, it's not just about sexuality, its also about my gender and my human-ness and where I see my self in the world, and in community. Moving to Dublin gave me a circle of friends which are majority queer femmes, and it's beautiful to not be exceptional for being queer, yet still exceptional. When this photo was took, Niamh caught me at a particularly femme moment, and I think she captured exactly how I like to think of my style, in how it queers femininity. My hair is long, but its longer than average, which to me brings it into this queer space. I wear a lot of makeup, and yet I wear it in a way that for me is both an artistic and a queer expression. Saying I wear drag in my everyday life does not mean I am acting as something other than myself. How I present is me, and its being aware of how my expression and gender expression interact with expectation and why perhaps I like what I like. And yes, I want to elevate it further and perform as a queen as well. As a non binary person there can be a pressure to dress or perform in whatever is conventionally considered 'the opposite' of what your assigned gender is, and yet that idea is entirely reliant on the binary, and not a useful one for me. Being non binary is a natural part of my experience and I love being femme. As I said before, I do like to interrogate why I like being femme, but that doesn't change the fact that I do. Femme with an edge of masculinity. And that isnt to say that wont, or hasnt, changed before or will again. Sometimes within my femmeness I do feel like a girl, but mostly I feel like something else entirely that I have created for myself, and that's Ren.”

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Niamh discussed the pressures involved in creating such intimate portraits of her subjects. “I felt such responsibility in terms of telling these individual’s stories because they all put their trust in me. But you also have to believe in yourself too. Shooting film can be a risky game because you can’t exactly see the photos until you develop them. So everything is a risk! But usually, that risk always paid off. 

“I learned so much from each of them. If we take intersectionality into account, we just need to listen to people and take something from each other’s stories. I think overall, intersectionality and practicing it is key when doing such projects. I have always focused on others within my work too. Although I am queer, I am a white cis woman and I have privileges that others don’t. Therefore, I feel it is always essential for me to use the skills I have to project the voices of others through my platform. 

“Each photo means something so special to me. I am glad they could all trust me and my vision.. I always had a bit of a rocky relationship with my internal self, but I always loved that part of me which could make others feel welcomed into my space and art. That’s all I ever really wanted.”

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Queer Hearts of Dublin – Casper he/him – 120mm film, medium format – @casperkurpan “It is difficult to understand you are treated wrong until you are treated right. Growing up in Poland while being gay felt like I was not allowed to be fully myself. Acting straight and trying to pass was a sort of survival technique that I became so good at that the amount of internalised homophobia I have to deal with now is overwhelming at times. I only came out to two people in my secondary school, and the majority of people I knew thought I was straight. My sort of official coming out happened a few weeks ago, when I started posting about the situation of the LGBTQ people and presidential elections in Poland on social media. I was able to do it, because I am not afraid anymore, because I am lucky enough to live in Dublin, a city that is generally very tolerant and accepting. Thousands of Polish LGBTQ people do not have this privilege, they cannot be out, they cannot talk and fight for their rights, as this could pose an actual threat to their lives. Moving to Dublin was a fresh start, I could finally be myself and share all aspects of my life with my friends. In the past four years I have been able to express and explore my queerness freely. When I go back to Poland I cannot do that, I am back to when I was 18 and I have to constantly check myself, make sure I am passing. I cannot wear clothes I want and I cannot speak or move in a way that feels natural to me. The recent presidential elections featured heated debate about LGBTQ rights, with the current at the time president calling the LGBTQ an ideology and not people, he was elected into the office with a margin of 0.8% of vote. With all the votes casted, and dozens of people in power speaking up against equality, about my right to call myself Polish, it feels as if I was not welcome in my home country. It feels like I lost the ability to call Poland my country any longer. I really hope one day I will be able to feel in Krakow the same way I feel in Dublin, feel like I am at home, safe and accepted for who I am.”

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Niamh shared how the project inspired her own coming out journey; “The entire experience was a lot more personal and special to me than I had imagined. I always had a vision with this project but I think I was just so surprised with the entire outcome. I always tell the stories of others through my work but ending the project on a self-portrait finally made it that more personal to me. I was finally telling my story which I think I held back on for quite some time.”

When I wrapped up this project after a beautiful day by Dublin’s coast, I was with my friends who also featured in the project on the Dart. We were talking about queerness and the idea of coming out. I always found coming out to be such an essentialist way of looking at queerness in the sense, homogeny is telling you, ‘hey you can be queer but you have to come out and tell everyone about your sexuality!’ And of course, that’s coming from such a privileged point of view because sometimes hiding in the closet is the only means of survival for some. But I also came to realize how natural queerness really is. It’s just all these crazy social constructs that are built around us which make us feel like we are wrong and not right.”

“The idea of ending on a self-portrait came to me on that Dart ride home when I finished shooting- well so I thought. I knew something was missing and I knew I had to do it. And I knew it would push me to finally tell my family.”

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Last but not least, me. Self Portrait on 120mm- Niamh she/her Over the last 8 months, I felt disconnected to my queerness due to being away from Dublin for a long period of time. Using the thing that makes me feel most at home, my camera has allowed me to connect to my queerness more so now than ever. When I finished this project, I walked down a street I used to walk to get home everyday when I was in 1st yr of college. Walking that street back then was awful as I wasn’t happy. I felt out of touch within myself and my queerness. But the more I connected to my queerness, I felt happier as I began to make amazing friends who made Dublin feel like home. I always separated Cork (where I grew up) from Dublin in terms of my queerness. Doing this project made me realize I was literally Hannah Montana – living two lives but not getting the best out of either. So, I walked down that street when I finished shooting this project and reowned my association with that road. I rang my mum, told her about this project and how I was so happy to be apart of Dublin’s queer community for the first time ever. All the pieces fell together. I wish Niamh in 1st yr of college could have loved herself more. Now, I’ve been nurturing the relationship I have with myself. I’m lucky I discovered film photography which has allowed me to connect with the inner parts of myself and to others. I owe my happiness, mental health and everything to my film camera and the wonderful people I have by my side. I’m in a privileged position to be open about my queerness. For some, it doesn’t get easier when they are. There are still micro and macro attacks against queer people in Ireland. I hope this project can help chip away those aggressions. Queer Hearts of Dublin is about comfort and feeling at home within yourself and the area around you. I really have achieved this goal which I deeply longed for when I walked down that same road in 1st yr. Thank you to everyone who trusted me to take their portrait (tagged y’all as it wouldn’t fit here lol). You are all so special to me in different ways. Thank you to @rorymccmahon who helped me with this self portrait! Thank you all for reading and engaging x

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Since creating the portrait series, Niamh shared the reactions she and the subjects have experienced. “It was such a great thing to happen for everyone involved. So many people directly messaged me and others in the project about how much it helped them to deal with internalised homophobia and possible bad outcomes if they came out. 

“I hope someday to bring these pictures to life and create a mini-exhibition. I hope I can get the funding someday somehow! Because I feel looking at these pictures in person would be a completely different experience. It’s my dream to bring this to real life and I really hope someday it can happen soon.”

Niamh has set up a GoFundMe to raise funds for a physical exhibition of Queer Hearts of Dublin in October. To help make that exhibition a reality, you can show your support here.

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