We rarely witness queer intimacy reflected in its truest form in popular media, in India. What we do get instead is a cookie-cutter, candy-floss, yassified, sanitary version to make it palatable for the heteros. Because what if they saw two men kissing? They’d combust right then and there!
When you take away the bells and whistles surrounding queer rights in India today, the reality is that queer couples exist pretty much just as any other couple: they do laundry, the dishes, and fuck from time to time.
While pro-queer rights lawyers in the Indian Supreme Court battle feelings instead of facts, a Delhi-based writer-photographer and intimacy coordinator is capturing queer intimacy in its rawest and purest form. “I started the page @daintystrangerphotos in 2018 as a space to share my journey with my body and images of my ex-lover,” said Raqeeb, 29, who grew up in Kolkata. Raqeeb is his artist name, which he prefers to use across various disciplines. “The [idea] was to document my own journey, as I’ve been uncomfortable [with] my body for the longest time.”
Over time, the page grew into something much bigger than Raqeeb had envisioned. Today, he’s helped build a community of people who share similar stories of insecurity and un-belongingness in relation to their bodies. “Growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, I didn’t see many representations of queer intimacy or vulnerability in the mainstream,” said Raqeeb, adding that he was confused about his own sexuality for the longest time and had similar images existed in the mainstream, he might have had a less difficult journey.
In the ongoing series A Day with the Lovers, Raqeeb spends 24 hours with a couple to document their intimacies, joys, and “everything that encompasses a relationship,” including, he said, the tiniest details that make their love endure.
The motivation for the photo series is the societal ethos of hushing anything that is “uncomfortable” to talk about. “The series began due to my own obsession [with] love. I find love to be an all-encompassing phenomenon, something that can make anything better, something that brings joy and liberation, but also sorrow and separation. It is the yin-yang in my life, and that perfect balance is what we’re all trying to find.”
Raqeeb tries to feature everyday people. “There’s no necessary requirement as such, and no screening process, just our time and vibes should match and then we plan the shoot,” he said. Check out some photos he’s made of couples as part of this series, and the stories behind them.
A couple that preferred staying anonymous
Raqeeb: I had a lovely time shooting with them. I didn’t know them personally, but the series was born after I met them. I could closely relate with one of them, as they were facing the same issues I had in a previous relationship regarding navigating a partner’s mental health issues and somehow keeping the love alive. We don’t always have a connection with every subject we shoot with, and I still feel warmly towards them.
Angad and Teena
Raqeeb: These two were so receptive and warm to the idea of the series. I’ve become friends with Angad and Teena, and we’ve even done another shoot together. I love the joy that this picture exudes – it’s raw and honest. The photos from this session were the ones that caught people’s [attention] and I really hold it close to my heart.
Shivangi and Zaddy
Raqeeb: Unlike the previous two couples who I had met for the first time on the day of the shoot, I already knew Shivangi and Zaddy. Usually during these shoots, the subjects and I get really close to each other, and it almost doesn’t feel like we’re meeting for a shoot. It just feels like spending a day with friends. Shivangi and Zaddy made me feel absolutely at home – from conversations about our experiences with love to dissecting zodiac signs (apparently, I always choose the wrong signs as lovers), it was a day of intimate, fun conversation. They served me homemade food, since I don’t live with my family in Delhi, and then took me out – my favourite part – for a drive and chai. We chilled together for hours after the shoot and plan to meet occasionally for chai and to hang out. I think my most important takeaway has been the opportunity to build relationships that I would never have imagined. I’m especially close to Shivangi and Zaddy.
Not only does this series give queer folx a chance to tangibly imagine a life with their partner/s, it also allows people on the fence about queer rights a chance to objectively look at us without being disgusted for a change. As Raqeeb said, “In the future, even if times and ideas of intimacy change, I think love will remain a constant.”
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VICE US – LGBTQ
“Growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, I didn’t see many representations of queer intimacy or vulnerability in the mainstream.”