© Yukai Chen, Revisiting (The Living Room)

#23 Seen/Unseen

As I write a series of billboards have appeared across London, featuring photography of a huge explosion in Gaza by Fadel Senna, and a short poem by Refaat Alareer, a prominent Palestinian writer killed in an Israeli airstrike in December. “If I must die/you must live/to tell my story,” the lines read. “If I must die/let it bring hope./Let it be a tale.”

A collaboration with British-Iranian artist Mitra Tabrizian and British-Jewish filmmaker and photographer Zadoc Nava, these billboards respond to the tragedy which has unfolded in Gaza since Hamas’ terrorist attacks on 07 October; in both words and actions, the billboards are a bid to keep this tragedy in the public eye.

Over the last decade or so, being seen in images has become synonymous with being seen on a wider socio-political level, and photographs have become key for advocacy. But while the power of images is clear, it’s a power that needs to be handled with care; even in Gaza, where the struggle has been to get the news out, photojournalists have questioned what it means to show terrible suffering to little avail.

Titled Seen/Unseen, this issue of Photography+ considers projects in which being visible isn’t straightforward, including Mahtab Hussain’s ongoing work on police surveillance and Shana-Lee Ziervogel’s collages disrupting colonial views; including Keisha Scarville’s work on the ‘Black Backstage’, and an interview on the ethics of publishing once closely-guarded images of crossdressers. What to show and how to show it are key questions for photography and, apparently, for our current moment.

Diane Smyth


Each issue we ask the Photography+ community to submit photographs, and this time we asked readers for work relating to the theme Seen/Unseen. We are delighted to publish the selected image, Revisiting (The Living Room) by Yukai Chen.

Revisiting (The Living Room) comes from Chen’s wider series The Factory of Desire, which draws on Chen’s experience growing up in a rural area of Xiamen, China, and in particular the opera singers who staged performances in his local temple. One of the woman wore pink make-up but dressed in male attire and sang boldly on stage, pushing gender boundaries in a way that comforted Chen as he struggled to accept his maturing body.

Also inspired by childhood memories of dressing up in a photo studio, he started to make self-portraits, this time taking full charge of his body on stages he constructed, and regarding his act as a resistance, and a representation of usually ephemeral, temporary queer spaces. ‘The Factory of Desire is a manifestation of my personal journey towards self-discovery,’ he says, ‘and a celebration of the power of picture-making to advocate for alternative social realities.’

© Yukai Chen, Revisiting (The Living Room)

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