Shutter Hub member Astrid Robertsson is a Swedish photographer based in Switzerland. She began photography as a child, graduating from Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts with an Extended Diploma in Art and Design, with a specialism in photography in 2020. Her work using analog film and alternative processes such as cyanotype printing is heavily influenced by her personal experiences and interests. She currently has work exhibited in Shutter Hub’s POSTCARDS FROM EUROPE exhibition and in YEARBOOK 2021.
I started making this project in late January of 2021 as I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I had known that I was attracted to women since I was 13 but, a combination of a lack of information about what being attracted to women felt like or meant, and being outed 2 times meant that I pushed it away, denying it until I eventually, in the lead up to Christmas 2020, felt that I was ready to accept that I’m gay.
When I need to process something I frequently turn to photography and art as a way to express myself. Part of being autistic is finding it hard to express my emotions accurately and often I don’t have words that seem good enough. When I photograph I use my camera as words, the compositions and colours allow me to show what I want to show without needing words to accompany them. Sexuality is a topic which is both scary and abstract but, as I now realise, is also something beautiful when you feel comfortable with the labels that identify you.
As I was trying to accept myself and come out I felt very conscious of how I looked. Whether this be the clothes I wear, the way my hair looks, the way I speak and whether a feeling that people would know I’m gay without me saying anything. Self-portraiture came naturally as a result, a way to reassure myself but also explore the feeling of confidence that coming out was giving me. I used a digital camera to make in camera double exposed black and white photographs and then as I came out to more of the people around me, I took a break from the project.
The project had served the purpose I hoped it would. It helped me to feel confident in my identity and that coming out was something I was ready to do aware that some people may not accept me. The people I told accepted me and to my surprise some told me they had suspected me being gay for years. The fact that this project was made before most people around me knew, and was entirely about my experience, makes these photos particularly strange to look back on. It was almost a year ago but, after almost a year of being out, I look back at the photos and feel like a much happier person. I don’t look at the mirror and dislike myself or have an internal dialogue consisting of homophobia only directed at me. I’m proud of the lesbian stereotypes that I am, they make me laugh and I enjoy the culture surrounding my identity. At first it scared me to feel joy and to relate to characters in The L-word but the thing is that no matter how hard I had tried to convince myself that I should like men, I never did, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am the way I am and that’s something to be proud of.
During the summer, I discovered cyanotype printing. I began with pre-treated papers and eventually bought chemicals to mix and coat paper with. I found that something was missing from the photos I had taken earlier in the year for the project. They were clean and sharp, not bad, but they lacked something . As I printed more I began to also print photos from the project as cyanotypes and the result was what I had hoped for, a roughness, fragile and strong, beautiful.
As those of you who have done cyanotype printing know, the exposure of a cyanotype needs a source of UV light. This can be an artificial source or sunlight. I’ve been using sunlight. However, due to the time of year (winter in Europe), I have had to print a lot at a time when the weather is sunny and I find that printing everything at once can be stressful, making the printing process unenjoyable. But, it works and although it is hard to equally expose each print I think it should be possible to have an idea of exposure time by doing a test strip print to see which time is best for a specific printing day. So far, the paper I’ve used for the printing has worked, it is ok but I’ve seen better quality paper and I’ve realised that no matter how good the weather is I can’t achieve the print quality I want with the watercolour paper I’ve used.
Sharing a project that is so personal is slightly scary because, although I can cope with homophobia, I do feel like combining this with my photography exposes me. In sharing it I am prepared for some people not to get it or not like the work. When sharing personal projects though, I do so knowing that the positive responses can potentially be equally as strong, and that by standing for who I am I can’t regret not being honest.
The next step for my project is perfecting the printing by using a higher quality paper. Now that I’ve done trial and error I can make final prints. I will then finish the cover and layout and create a zine. It is important for me to make this zine available to other LGBTQIA+ young people who either might be considering coming out or who’ve already come out and can relate to the experiences and feelings associated with it. I would like to do this by researching zine distribution and printing or open calls where printing is the prize as I personally can’t afford printing it right now and I also want to distribute the zine either for free or at low cost.
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