Armed with nothing but a smartphone, the artist behind the ‘@_wehearyou’ Instagram account has been on a mission to capture the raw and shocking reality of toxic masculinity, that is leaching into the pubs and clubs which are supposed to be protected from it.
Whispers of alienation, betrayal, and vulnerability have been circulating within Perth’s queer community, as businesses appear to be turning their back on this demographic.
Petitions have been signed but public apologies and temporary actions have been met with contempt and cynicism.
These back-and-forth conversations are reaching boiling point.
Rather than sitting on his hands as frustration grips the community, photographer Ethan Blackburn has decided to document the evolution of one important queer venue.
A project he had been working on through Propel and PICA’s partnership, Still Here, gave himself and other artists a space and platform to develop some work and concepts. This project consequently led him to think seriously about the conversations his community had been having.
Talking about the birth of the project, Blackburn says documenting the evolution of the space was important to give voice to the community.
“To see a venue that a few decades ago was so important, so queer, so liberating and then witness just how much that’s changed, that’s something I’m interested in documenting,”
Blackburn started documenting the change after the venue’s values and missions were called into question by their core patrons and advocates for the queer community earlier this year. But he noticed a change well before.
“There was a strange vibe you get when you walk in to a place that should be accepting and safe, but people weren’t feeling that,” he explains.
“I wasn’t feeling it; my friends weren’t feeling it.”
According to Blackburn, there was a different air about the place the Friday night after the venue issued their response––something more in line with the Pride fanfare that had gone down a few months prior.
“They clearly put a lot of effort into making the night very queer, very Pride. They had every drag queen in Perth performing, they’d done up the whole venue in such a way that it was clearly very important to them that they weren’t abandoning the community or disregarding us.”
Stressing that he wants to tread carefully when talking about the issue, Blackburn implores:
“I understand that this venue has done so much for the queer community and has been such an important venue.”
Despite what the venue had done for the community he couldn’t ignore the feeling that this was an ongoing problem.
“I’ve heard people saying that the venue has been actively appealing to the straight demographic, because they’re a business. But in doing so they’ve alienated their core patrons, which I think is what people are the most upset about, which makes sense.”
When asked if he was prepared for the potential backlash that comes with a controversial project like this, he answered honestly:
“No, I’m really not, far from it actually.”
“The venue doesn’t know I’m doing this, it’s been pretty much kept to this microcosm of PICA, but I think the project shines a light on a bigger issue in way that signing a petition and a public apology can’t.”
Blackburn says the rapid-fire approach to the project allows him to capture the unmanicured actuality of the situation.
“Using my phone, I feel liberated because it is more discreet than a big camera––people don’t pose, people don’t notice, which allows me to get these shots and document the story.”
If you want to see more photos from Ethan Blackburn’s ongoing project, hit up his new Instagram account dedicated to the series: @_wehearyou