This Is What Queer Love Looks Like
Corbin Chase is a gay man on a mission: to meet (and, subsequently, photograph) every person on the planet. It’s ambitious to say the least, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise; Chase is perhaps the most thoughtful, attentive photographer out there, and, in his own words, he “LOVES Love”. Today is Pride, a day of celebration and acknowledgement — on this day, take a pause from your festivities and sit down with Chase to hear more about his quest for community, connection, and most importantly, love.
So, let’s talk about your Pride project! Why did you become interested in photographing queer couples?
So generally, Pride month is something I originally never really looked forward to. When I was growing up, I pretty much knew I was gay from a young age, and I would see Pride, etc., rainbow flags, and to me, it looked like really hot guys with tons of abs, at least 36 abs on their body, dancing in neon speedos on parade floats. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I knew I didn’t have a single ab. I didn’t think gay people would like me, I didn’t think I deserved to participate in Pride, or that I could have pride because I didn’t look like that. I really didn’t like pride because I thought it wasn’t for me, it was to celebrate the elite in the gay community. I didn’t have pride in my community around me, where I was.
And then I was dating a guy for a long time, and he was my community. My gay community. There is one thing I discovered about being gay, and meeting other gay people: for a lot of people it is very lonely. That’s why Pride is so essential, to bring people together. I lost my best friend due to a tragic accident, and I lost my boyfriend because I was spiraling because of the tragic accident. And I realized, fuck! I don’t have a gay community. And it just so happened to be June when that happened. I really do want to take the things that have helped me define who I am—the hard times that I’ve been through— and put them on blast and create conversation. They are relatable to a lot of people in the community. As I talk to more gay people, I’ve realized that it can be lonely. What gets promoted creates complexes for everyone. Gay people are lonely, just as lonely as straight people, as any people. I realized after, I didn’t have my boyfriend, I didn’t have any gay friends or gay community.
I wanted this gay love, so why don’t I document it where it naturally exists?
So where did you search for community after that and where did you find it?
Well I grew up in church, I romanticized every gay person I met, I didn’t look at them as a friend but as a “maybe” romantic partner who could be the one, save my life, turn it all around for me. But that’s not a great way to go and find a community, to look for the love of your life in every person you meet. So I had this idea, that what I wanted, was to be in love with someone and have that partnership. If I had one other person who understood me and cared for me, that was going to be great. You can’t force people to fall in love with you, you can try as hard as you want. I thought it was a lot safer, because this is what I wanted. I wanted this gay love, so why don’t I document it where it naturally exists?
It doesn’t need to involve me. People who are successfully taking care of each other, and have found pride, but also in a safe way to where I’m not immediately romanticizing these dudes. They’re in a couple, I’m not trying to homewreck for my own selfish gain. I just want to talk about your experiences, and put out a story of healthy queer relationships. But, I want a gay love, so I went and learned about it from people who are enacting it. The first couples I started shooting, it was such a wonderful experience. My only real talent behind the camera is that I can make people feel comfortable pretty quickly. I got the pictures back, and they were beautiful. Selfishly, I was really happy with them. I saw them, and I felt proud. I felt excited about that. I was excited to share these queer people with genuine connections with other people. What is bad, and what is negative about seeing two people care for each other, and have a spark in their eye that is specific to who they’re with? So how I got started is, I lost my entire gay community, by having it all in one person and losing that person. I wanted to go out and make other gay friends, but in a way that felt safe to me. I wanted to tell their stories, so I started photographing them and got addicted. It made me feel really happy.
Do you remember what month or year that you started doing this? How many couples have you photographed so far?
I started in June of last year. I have photographed at least 70 couples. I haven’t shared a lot of the pictures because I intended to turn it into a book. I want it to be boring gay couples everywhere. For Pride, people are done the fuck up, and I think that’s amazing. But I’m from Texas, a big city, Austin. And every summer I was in Medina, a tiny fucking place. I don’t think people see, because what’s printed in The New York Times or big newspapers, they can’t identify with it. It’s a completely different way of living. If you know anything about gay people, it’s that they’re fucking everywhere.
If you know anything about gay people, it’s that they’re fucking everywhere.
There are hundreds of thousands, millions. Gay people have been absolutely been put down, beat down. I remember learning about Stonewall the first year of college, and that was the first time I had ever heard about it! As a gay person! It is important for the queer community to dress up, to be proud of themselves. I think people in remote areas see that and it scares them. They think, “I could never be that, I could never look like that,” but that’s what Pride is. I really wanted this to be about gay couples anywhere and everywhere, they don’t have to be fucking hot. No offense, but some of them weren’t. What’s hot is that they’re in love, and they love themselves first and made a connection with someone else. No one is boring, that’s not the right word. Just regular people. I have found my pride in being secure with myself. And that didn’t come from dancing on a float. Not that it can’t, I’m sure that it can. I have nothing against the Pride Parade. I feel like I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to say anything to anyone, and that makes me feel prideful. I found that through being around people who are content with themselves, and many of these couples are not too showy and private, and they let me shoot them because it’s a way for them to push themselves. And maybe they would find a new side to pride in it. It’s been interesting, to see what each couple interprets Pride to be. There were older gay couples who were around where it was scary to leave your house. There are a few sets of kiddos that I photographed that are growing up with a mindset that is so different than my own. Even in the last decade, they have so much access to the Internet and information. I wanted it to be regular people, everywhere. You are not going to find someone in a community in the world, or at least America, who isn’t at least questioning their sexuality or thinking that Becky is hotter than Tom.
I feel like this is going to be an ongoing project forever, but is there a point where you’ll finish? Or feel like it’s complete in some way?
I would say that my mission in life is to meet every person on the planet. That’s ambitious, I’ll admit. I naturally, as a human being, judge everything with my eyes. I have to unlearn that and give people the opportunity to completely blow my mind and surprise me. The only way I’ll be able to understand everyone is if I get the chance to assess them myself. I don’t think the project will ever be done, because for me, it’s research. I’m still researching. I’m a curious little cat. I remember sending the photos back to the first couples and seeing how happy they were to see themselves. We didn’t have a stylist, I just invaded their home. I didn’t know them, and that’s scary. I’m surprised that people say yes. I think the project will be done after I photograph every gay person in the world.
I think the project will be done after I photograph every gay person in the world.
I’m hard on myself with my photos, just because everyone is a fucking photographer. I don’t want to repeat or regurgitate. If someone did the same project as me, I would understand because I know how cathartic it is. I would fully support anyone pursuing photographing gay love. The feeling when they get a photo back, and I can send it out and I know the couple can be excited to see how amazing they look and genuinely lovely as they are, they’re going to show people. It’s strong. When you’re excited to share something because you’re comfortable with yourself, it feels fucking good. I’m addicted to feeling good, and I love taking a nice pic and hearing them say it’s nice, it feels very good. Having it so specifically related to uplifting other queer people. I’ve attached myself to this, that’s the point. I wanted to surround myself with gay love, in the hopes that it will help me find my own partner. I’ve found that my partner is the community, and the community I’ve been able to take pictures of, the community where we can joke around and laugh and be real. I’m trying to document it, that has been a sustaining gay love. When I thought, “I want a boyfriend, I want a partner,” through this project, I’ve learned that what I can get from a partner or a boyfriend, I can get through different avenues. And I love this one, so, so much. I love the gay people I’ve gotten to shoot, I love that I get to say that I love gay people and Pride. I feel proud. I have my opinion, my own complicated thoughts from my experiences, but what I’m looking for in another person, I was able to find in other peoples’ relationships. Does that sound crazy?
Stay tuned to Milk for more Pride coverage.