Miriam Woodburn on the “intensely personal and rewarding process” of creating her series Queer Women

“Even in a small way, sharing portraits and stories not only helps document and legitimise our experiences but may be a ray of hope to someone who’s still figuring things out.”

12 August 2020

It’s often the case that university briefs take on a life of their own, and it’s certainly true of Miriam Woodburn’s project Queer Women, a series of striking, soft and sensitive portraits documenting queer, lesbian and bisexual women and non binary people through photography and interviews. Having grown up in Essex, Miriam is now based in London and has recently completely her BA in graphic design at Kingston School of Art, having spent a year in Berlin working in industry.

On Queer Women, Miriam tells us “as a queer woman myself, this has been an intensely personal and rewarding process.” Starting with no preconceived ideas of what the project would end up being, or how it would end up looking, Miriam decided to keep things simple. “The visual language for this project developed because I wanted the portraits to be soft and sensitive, as well as confrontational and impactful,” Miriam explains. “The close crops and muted tones resulted from the aim to make the women the sole focus of the image without any distractions.”

When working on the project, which began in January 2020, Miriam used social media to find her subjects; she had an incredible response and tried to say yes to everyone who wanted to be involved. “Initially I didn’t have any criteria, I just wanted to photograph people who resonated with the ‘Queer Women’ title,” she explains. “The nature of social media meant that the vast majority of people who reached out to me were in their late teens and 20.” In turn, she focused to demographic to those aged between 18 and 30.

As an age group made up of millennials and gen z, those between 18-30 have witnessed “huge strides towards equality in our lifetimes (with gay marriage being legalised in 2014),” Miriam continues. There has also been a shift towards understanding fluidity in regards to gender and sexuality, a shunning of labels, and the internet has allowed many to find a community who were previously isolated in a hostile world. “Anecdotally, I have found there to be big generational differences in attitudes in the queer community. Young LGBTQ+ people are very concerned with intersectionality and inclusivity which I think is amazing! I wanted to capture who we are and where we are right now,” Miriam further explains.

GalleryMiriam Woodburn: Queer Women

For Miriam, the past year has been instrumental in terms of her accepting her sexuality, and she remarks how “In general, I feel like gay women often realise that they’re gay much later than gay men.” While there are many reasons for this, she outlines how “women generally are discouraged from exploring their sexuality,” and that a long story of erasure and misogyny still means queer women are much less visible in the public sphere than gay men. In turn, many of the subjects in Queer Women are still “undergoing a process of discovery, or have only just recently come out as queer.” She adds: “I wanted to show that you don’t have to have it all figured out in order to be part of the queer community.”

The series also attempts to dispel stereotypes and show the full breadth a diversity of queer womxn. Having dealt with her own internalised homophobia and confusion when it comes to owning her identity as a lesbian due to the fact she did not fit her own stereotypes, it was important to Miriam to tackle that. “Seeing myself and my experience reflected in media or art might have saved me a lot of heartache during this process, so I hope to create that for someone else,” she tell us. “Even in a small way, sharing portraits and stories not only helps document and legitimise our experiences but may be a ray of hope to someone who’s still figuring things out.”

Miriam’s personal connection to the topic and stories shared in Queer Women is ultimately what makes the project such a success, as her intentions and goals are imbued in every portrait while simultaneously allowing the individual to share theirs. It’s an understated and quiet series but there’s a power in its muted tones, which allow each sitter to simply exist as they are.

Reflecting on this series and on her work as a whole which is broadly concerned with gender and sexuality, Miriam testifies to the importance of following your gut and exploring personal concepts. “My work really improved when I followed my gut and chose to do personal projects that felt important, without too much regard as to outside approval. This seems obvious now, but it took me a long time to find my voice and I only really did in the last year or so.” Now a fresh graduate out in the world, she hopes to continue her newfound love of filmmaking as well as photography, developing her practice within the limitations of the present moment.

GalleryMiriam Woodburn: Queer Women

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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