Theater of Cruelty

Weird Norwegian history: 29 thought-provoking interviews

Queer icons
PHOTO BOOK / Queer icons deals with a generation that lived with the fear of AIDS, exclusion and criminalization – and not least with the pain from the lack of role models.


Photography as an artistic form of expression and queer life have had a parallel development over the past 50 years. Both have gone from being marginalized to finding their clear place in society. With the photo book Queer icons photographer Fin Serck-Hanssen highlights environments he has documented for over 30 years. In 1985 created his debut with the photo series Blue men furore. The tribute and documentation of leather guys and teddy bears challenged parts of the gay community. Today, even portraits of men surrounded by naked glistening men do not provoke.

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Through 29 photo portraits with accompanying interviews, we get an insight into different types of queer history in Norway. It is represented by gay communists, the sweeper league, uncompromising butchers, reality judges, sound artists and lesbian priests, to name a few. The environmental depictions and photo portraits take us to activists and social stormers, but also bring us into the secret nocturnal rooms. In addition to boundary-breaking performance art, to the sequined queens of the night in shoes with stiletto heels in size 46 – but also to loneliness and vulnerability. The narrator's perspective is confidential and rich in detail.

"Homocommunists, the sweeper league, uncompromising butchers, reality judges, lesbian priests"

Nelly Nylon, trans icon and nightlife entrepreneur, adorns the cover with fiery red curls and toxic green tulle. The cigarette hangs in the corner of his mouth – or should that rather be a joint? Such as during the AIDS epidemic in the countless hours at the infection control department she is said to have given to young dying people for relief.

The funeral for Svein Skeid: "His work for the acceptance of BDSM and fetishism can hardly be overestimated"

100 men in prison

We can read in the preface that the background for the photo book Queer icons was Fin Serck-Hanssen's meeting with an old acquaintance at the London Pub: "Is he still alive there, thought Fin. At the same time, it occurred to him that this old icon had hardly been photographed in the last decades, and he felt a need to document queer icons while they were still among us." The book's preface changed somewhat in meaning after the mass shooting at the London Pub – 2 killed and 23 injured.

Tom Ovlien (b. 1955) and Arne-Harald Hanssen (b. 1958) became fathers in 1992, at a time when it was unthinkable for many that two men would raise children together. The mother Gunn I Mid-ten.

The authors Bjorn Hatterud og Caroline Ugelstad Elnæs has obtained 29 thought-provoking interviews from inside the environment that make it impossible to remain untouched. Queer icons documents environments that have been inaccessible to most, and gives an insight into the stories of the first among other marginalized people – who found support to be themselves.

The icons have now become the guides.

The testimonies convey the integration of different gender and orientation identities and the associated cultural expression and expression of life that the repeal of section 213 (1972) of the law has made possible. It read like this:

"If lewd intercourse takes place between persons of the male sex, those who are guilty of it, or who contribute to it, are punished with imprisonment for up to 1 year. The same punishment applies to anyone who has lewd association with animals, or who contributes to it. {…}»

Ulf Nilseng

The Morals Act, which deliberately equated sexual intercourse between men with lewd intercourse with animals, sent over 100 men to prison for the former offence. For several, arrest, punishment and subsequent great shame ended with suicide.

Frontline fighters

Recently the photographs were removed Queer icons exhibited in one of the venerable rooms at the Old Library in Oslo as part of Oslo Negativ. Layered large portraits gave depth and the opportunity for playful ambiguous nuances: A man with his trousers on his knees, half hidden behind a tree, feels himself. A blurred younger male figure is placed in the right image plane. And the portrayal of filmmaker Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen is bold and direct. It reminds of a movie scene. "Taboo-breaking filmmaker" is the telling title. And in a rainbow mane the portrait of Kim Friele stands. Her pioneering role concerned both the decriminalization and the recovery of homosexuals – and acted as a unifying hub. A warm hand to hold as a role model, but not without claws. She insisted to stop dragging on a history of gay suffering as well as to come out of the closet, but rather be conscious of letting others in.

For several, arrest, punishment and subsequent great shame ended with suicide.

Testimonies about queer life are gripping, but the icons we meet are far more than their appearance or identity. Many were front-line fighters on countless of society's barricades while struggling with inner demons. The icons have moved boundaries for all of us – and so has time. The book's stylist Kjell Nordström has gone all the way from reviled and frozen out fashion designer to becoming a popular costume designer for a TV hit.

Nelly Nylon

The LGBT+ portraits have also become exclusive expensive decorative cushions with depictions that are frequently shared on social media. The irony of using the pillow format is a comment that the icons have now become the stuers, they belong to society, but are also used as superficially entertaining decor.

Maurice Budini: "I Just Flew From Flower To Flower."

The book clearly communicates that it is neither a representative nor an exhaustive work of history nor a textbook in or analysis of marginalized cultural expressions. The requirement for the selection of lesbians and gays who were contacted was that they had to have lived for at least 50 years. The narrative that remains for the generation portrayed is the pain of the lack of role models – what it has cost not to find yourself and your gender or love identity represented. The spectrum spans far. From people who had to live with the fear of AIDS, exclusion and criminalization, to model Maurice Budini, who didn't even know it was forbidden, but flew from flower to flower. The thought of not being open was impossible.

Serck-Hanssen's documentation project captures a unique picture of the times. But the era where queer identity and its scope of possibilities depended to the greatest extent on the individual is thankfully over.

Ellen Lande
Ellen Lande
Lande is a film writer and director and a regular writer for Ny Tid.

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