Ryan Pfluger's 'Holding Space: Life and Love Through a Queer Lens'

  • by Mark William Norby
  • Tuesday October 24, 2023
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Photographer Ryan Pfluger
Photographer Ryan Pfluger

There exists both confidence and vulnerability in LGBTQ relationships where the observer and the observed find themselves beautifully united. Indeed, only a handful of artistic examples assert themselves so effectively as Ryan Pfluger's "Holding Space: Life and Love Through a Queer Lens" (Princeton Architectural Press). His series of portraits show how intersectional queer relationships really are and how effective in them we can actually be.

As we have found ourselves breaking up more than making up our own definitions of how we choose to live together, Pfluger's photographic and biographic chronicles will fit into your life and banish the limitations of what we have understood as the state of being connected. Having chosen authenticity over the brashness that pride can stir, Pfluger knew precisely what he wanted to create. He wanted to create intimate, often very sexy full-color portraits of difference celebrated.

Portrait of Christine and Hannah in 'Holding Space' (photo: Ryan Pfluger)  

Page after page of photographs merit display in any museum, reveal emotions and invite the viewer to step into their lives. Every couple has a good story to tell about what makes their relationships work.

Take Christine and Hanna, who met in New York City and eventually settled together in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Christine and Hanna experimented with different aspects of relationships; visiting New York City's Museum of Modern Art, talking sex for hours on end, and exploring ideas for travel together and getting lost in Berlin nightclubs.

Yet they never committed to partnership in the conventional sense. Rather, they chose to be together, to love and live and share their lives in the same space contented with one another as deep soulmates. The biographies of the lives displayed here in what is, after all, a coffee table art book, are as eye-popping as the tantalizing, inviting photographs.

"I never felt more in the world, or of the world, than when I was with her. It's maybe ironic then that it felt like the outer world pulled us apart. Or maybe it was the unkind part of the outer world that I had internalized and couldn't kick." Christine doesn't go into why she and Hanna were pulled apart, but rather focuses on what has kept them together.

Couples and their stories
Take Alyss and Angelica. Extremely candid about their mistakes, Alyss left a conservative Christian life in Texas only to find themself enrolled in the Bethel Conservatory of the Arts in Redding in order to earn a BA in performing arts. They wound up in a conversion therapy program at Bethel, whose sole goal was to convince them that God didn't make them gay or transgender. But somehow Alyss found the strength to affirm their own sexuality.

"I realized that I didn't hate myself or my queerness. I had just been acting under the influence of people who think it is an abomination for me to exist." They left Redding for Los Angeles, where they met Angelica. "Angelica made my life worth living."

Alyss and Angelica in 'Holding Space' (photo: Ryan Pfluger)  

Meet Court and Adaris, two daddies living in Los Angeles. A traditional gay couple who met on Scruff. Hot. These two will make the men at the Lone Star Saloon weep. Court gets right to the point.

"When we finally met, we had really incredible sex and I invited him to have dinner with me after. We were fuck buddies for a few months with no intention of getting into a relationship, and then it just sort of happened."

Court took off to Italy and while there, realized that he wanted Adaris "to be my person. When I came home, I asked him to be my boyfriend and he said yes."

"Holding Space" is filled with biracial couples in interesting relationships that should keep you thinking about how we all navigate the world.

Take Sarah and Oliver, another couple living in L.A. Sarah is lesbian and Oliver is a queer trans man. "Seeing other people's reaction to Oliver has made me protective of him. As a brown person, he's been pulled over by cops way more than I have, and when we were signing our mortgage papers, the white mortgage broker who had met us three times and had seen his name on all the papers called him Javier."

Zack and Martin in 'Holding Space' (photo: Ryan Pfluger)  

We meet Martin and Zack from San Francisco. With an eleven-year age difference between them and a bit older than the majority of younger couples that populate "Holding Space," it was a breath of fresh air to receive the affirmations that come with age and experience.

"Understanding what kind of relationship you actually want to share versus the kinds that have been modeled for you, and ultimately the never-ending change that comes with growing more and more every day," they stated together. Which is, of course, the point of the book.

With celebrity endorsements by Jamie Lee Curtis, queer author Alexander Chee, actor/director/producer Elliot Page, author Xochitl Gonzalez ("Olga Dies Dreaming") and others, plus a foreword by writer and director Janicza Bravo ("Zola"), Pfluger's book is definitely worth owning. At a time when queer people are increasingly attacked across the country, Pfluger puts us out there colorfully and with a distinct dignity that says, I am here.

"Holding Space: Life and Love Through a Queer Lens" by Ryan Pfluger, Princeton Architectural Press, 223 pp., $29.95 www.papress.com


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