Photo project started in quarantine now connects southern Maine LGBTQ community


PORTLAND, Maine – Photographer Kyle Warnock stood atop the walkway in Deering Oaks Park on a sunny, freezing December day. He was awaiting the arrival of his next subject, Hannah Lord.

When Warnock finally spotted Lord in the distance, he didn’t hesitate. He immediately waved, shouted a hello, and walked over to her, eager to make contact. For most of the hour that followed, the two chatted as he took photos of her for his website, Queers of Greater Portland.

The photo-based website began as Warnock’s personal antidote to isolation fueled by the pandemic. Almost two years later, this is a full-fledged personal and professional directory for the LGBTQ community in southern Maine, featuring business networking events and group camping trips.

“Photography is the connection medium for me,” Warnock said. “It lessens the embarrassment of meeting and talking to strangers. “

On Thursday, Kyle Warnock chats with one of his portrait photographic subjects at Deering Oaks Park in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Warnock first began photographing strangers in May 2020. At the time, he was emerging from a long period of overwork and sleep deprivation that left him feeling disconnected from his community.

“It was work, sleep, rehearse,” Warnock said. “I didn’t know who I was. I was alone.”

With the closure of the pandemic last year, he moved away from his professional life as an American Sign Language interpreter. Warnock picked up an old camera that had been collecting dust in his closet for the previous decade and made it known that he wanted to meet other queer people and take their photos.

“About 40 people responded and it exploded from there,” Warnock said.

This month, he believes he photographed 300 people from the LGBTQ community between York and Augusta.

“It’s not exclusive,” Warnock said. “Anyone who reaches out will be included. “

After taking pictures of his subjects, Warnock asks them to write a caption about themselves. Some write a single sentence; others go deeper into it. The site only uses first names and pronouns.

“Currently I teach preschoolers and love them,” wrote a subject named Elizabeth.

“I read 73 books in my 40s, I’m at 109 so far this year,” Landon wrote, below his photo. “I still don’t feel like I read enough. “

All topics on Queers of Greater Portland are organized into categories including artists, healthcare, business, education, and politics. The idea is that gay people are normal everywhere and involved in all facets of Maine life. It’s an idea Warnock feels the need to stress out, especially outside of Portland.

Portland photographer Kyle Warnock shot these portraits for his Queers of Greater Portland website. From left to right, Ryn, Hayli and Ophélie and Yusur. Credit: Courtesy of Kyle Warnock

“They laughed at me in public, threw bottles at me,” he said. “I have been dating since I was 12 and I know very well how people are treated. “

By separating his topics into searchable categories, Warnock tries to introduce strangers to each other and help them find themselves within their own safe community, which he said was especially important to “people who have just come across.” to regain”.

Lord, a doula and lactation counselor, reached out to Warnock because she wants the greater Portland gay community to know it exists.

“That there are resources, especially for them, in the community,” Lord said.

While taking pictures of Lord, Warnock used the rear screen of his camera, rather than looking through the viewfinder. This allowed him to maintain eye contact with his subject, while maintaining a constant flow of conversation.

It is clear from his smiles and insightful questions that everyday speech is more than a portrait painter’s trick. Warnock is really interested in what Lord has to say. While chatting, he also keeps his subject comfortable and indifferent to the camera.

Smiles and joy are a common thread throughout all of Warnock’s portraits. Her own open and personal warmth is reflected in each of the faces of her models.

Clockwise, from left: Photographer Kyle Warnock portrays Vin Mercury on Thursday; Queer doula and lactation counselor Hannah Lord pose for photographer Kyle Warnock on Thursday; Photographer Kyle Warnock portrays Vin Mercury in Deering Oaks Park in Portland for the Queers of Greater Portland website. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

In addition to business and artistic connections, Queers of Greater Portland also brings together members of the local LGBTQ community to enjoy the outdoors. Over the past year, Warnock has organized camping trips to Swan Island, Baxter State Park, and Mount Blue State Park. There was a sloa foraging workshop in Brunswick.

Warnock sees nature and the outdoors as a healthy alternative to queer people meeting in bars, where socialization inevitably revolves around alcohol.

At this moment, Warnock sees no end to his project. He still has plenty of people ready to be photographed and added to his website and Instagram feed. But he thinks he would one day like to turn Queers of Greater Portland into a nonprofit.

Until that happens, he’s happy to keep taking photos and chatting with people.

“The ability to learn from others every day is invaluable,” Warnock said. “Connection is the most important thing in life. “

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