Cincinnati-based photographer Christian Hendricks decided to head down south for his latest photo project in an effort to examine what it’s like to be queer below the Mason-Dixon line, the demarcation many use to separate Northeastern and southern territory in the U.S.
The idea for his collection, aptly titled South of the Ohio: A Queer Photo Documentary, stems from widely-held myths of the LGBTQ community in the southern U.S. that Hendricks came face to face with while living in Gallatin, Tennessee for a few months to help rebuild homes with Aid for the World. With this project, Hendricks hopes to illuminate the active queer underworld in these regions and reveal what LGBT pride looks like there in an effort to “display the tension between religion and sexuality and identity.”
“A lot of people were like, ‘Gay culture is thriving down here. We’re not this completely marginalized group of people. We have our own sense of pride. It’s just a different region. We’re not any different from gays in L.A. or New York just because we don’t have a city’” remarked Hendricks.
Hendricks will set out on his six-week journey to capture these images and accompanying stories in August, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign. Hendricks will start in Cincinnati, just north of the Ohio river, and make his way south through hubs like Nashville and Atlanta, while also focusing on smaller rural areas that are seemingly less tolerant.
“I focused on northeastern Mississippi,” he said, “because that’s where the largest cluster of Southern Baptist churches is in the South, so I took that as a signifier that that would be one of the most conservative areas that I could visit.”
To combat the potential lack of openly gay subjects in such areas, Hendricks uses Grindr, the popular gay-dating app.
Along with the photos, Hendricks hopes to include video interviews with the subjects he photographs. He is also planning his trip so that he can sweep through New Orleans during Southern Decadence, an event many tout as “the big gay Mardi Gras.”
When it’s all said and done, Hendricks will return home to compose the photographic collection for publication.
While Hendricks has done quite a bit of planning and research leading up to his forthcoming journey, he remains unsure exactly what he may come across. “That’s what’s exciting for me,” he said. “I don’t’ know what I’m going to get. And I don’t really want to know either. It’s going to be completely about exploration and watching how these photographs will manifest into a series.”
Check out some of Hendricks’ work below: