Niamh Barry profoundly captures intimate moments of queer existence. Her images seek to unapologetically represent the diversity of the queer identity in a society haunted by a past of Catholically founded sexual oppression, that still typecasts what it means to be Irish and queer. Barry’s photographs challenge toxic stereotypes and bigoted cliché’s, humanising a community that is too often dehumanised. Niamh’s work exhibits the multifaceted and diverse landscape that is queerness, educating the spectator in a highly emotive form.
Barry’s debut exhibition Queer Hearts of Dublin – a five-part photography series in aid of MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) held in Dublin’s Hens Teeth, definitively solidified her status as a respected photographer in Irish artistic circles. Prior to the May 2022 launch of her second exhibition and book No Queer Apologies, I caught up with Niamh. Both inspired and fascinated by her dedication to reversing blinkered queer perceptions through photograph, I asked Niamh the things I’ve always wanted to know.
What does queer photography mean to you?
“For me, it means taking photos that intentionally express queer connotations – directly or indirectly. Queer is not just one thing, it’s many different things. It’s important to explore the depths of a person – gender, race, sexuality. I want to represent queer people in their natural state and in this way the results are limitless, akin to how queerness is limitless.”
For those who were initially unsure of her objective, this statement encapsulates the motivation behind Niamh’s work. Her photography seeks to debunk unfounded myths that define who and what queerness is.
Why is it important to represent queer identities?
“Growing up in Ireland, I never ever saw a queer person on mainstream media. Growing up without representation is really hard. As I learned about queer, sexuality race in college I thought, “Wow, there aren’t really any representations of this in Irish media”. Queerness is not just linear, its boundless. Queer people have always existed so we should represent them.”
“People coming up to me telling me how much my work means to them (especially younger queer people) – it makes me feel heard and seen. I’m providing that representation that I never had at that age.”
It is profoundly ironic that Niamh is the provider of the very representation that she never had growing up.
How did you get into photography?
“Since a very young age, I was obsessed with Dad’s VHS camera. I used to love making movies with friends – Lego stop-motion kind of stuff.”
“A lot of people judged me and made me feel weird that I was into that kind of stuff. I stayed away from it wanting to fit in. It was the only way to survive in very conservative heteronormative all girls catholic school. Eventually, I grew out of that teenage judgement shit. One year Mam and Dad gave me a second-hand digital camera for Christmas and that kind of started my real love for it.”
“I studied business and sociology at Trinity. It’s a privilege to go to college – to have a safety net. I learned a lot about society and myself during my degree but, a “practical” job isn’t for everyone. Photography is what I was meant to do – as cliché as that sounds. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
What are you most proud of thus far?
“Queer Hearts of Dublin. I went to Boston on a college exchange semester in January 2020. When I was there, I realised that I was like two of fifty exchange students that were queer. It was isolating. I had just settled in Dublin and found people that I could totally feel myself around. When I was in Boston, I felt kind of back to square one – it was suppressive.”
“When I came back from Boston – I sold prints. That was such a life changing thing. I sold like 300-400 prints. The outpour of support was crazy. In July 2020 I went to Dublin for a couple of weeks – I wanted to practice taking portraits, but I want it to mean something. I did a call-out on Insta – “Any queer people want get photo taken?”. I got so many responses. I ended up with series of pictures of queer people in Dublin. I basically just let people tell their stories through their pictures. I didn’t have any expectations at all. It was my way of coming out in a sense. Then Hens Teeth approached me to exhibit.”
What have you learned about yourself through photography?
I’m a really hard worker – by pushing myself almost too much it leads to a really bad burnout physically and mentally. Self-care is hard to get to grips with as a creative. I think everyone struggles with that.