Emily April Allen's 'Nashville Queers in Quarantine'
“Nashville Queers in Quarantine,” Emily April Allen explained, “is a physically-distanced photo project that aims to promote visibility and provide connection during a time of isolation. It documents this unique moment in time while also showcasing members of the Nashville queer community.”
"Patience and clarity seem like the overarching themes right now. I'm learning to ease into personal revelations and spiritual growth." – ArJae (Cover Model)
Her photo series captures a broad range of LGBTQ+ community members as they quarantined and sheltered in place, focusing on what has for many been a unique and profoundly disruptive event.
Tell our readers a little bit about who you are.
I grew up as the middle child of three queer kids in a politically liberal and observantly Jewish family in Fort Worth, Texas. We were (and are!) a unique bunch! My parents are from Chicago and New York City, though, so I feel that’s really where my roots lie. Needless to say, we were different from those around us in our area, and the uniqueness of my family bonded us together in a way that keeps us close. Because of my family, queer community has felt like home to me my whole life.
My journey into LGBTQ advocacy began in college at the University of Southern California, where I served a year as director of the university’s Queer and Ally Student Assembly, and then worked as the interim Program Associate for the SoCal office of the GSA Network. I moved to Nashville 8 years ago after graduating college, and became involved with the Middle Tennessee chapter of GLSEN (I also served as co-chair for a couple of years). I was passionate about being involved in LGBTQ advocacy, but realized I am more suited to work on creative projects rather than ones that require more concrete organization and logistics!
I stumbled upon photography five years ago and realized that this medium was the perfect way to continue to stay involved while exploring this creative outlet. I am constantly intrigued by the question, “What is queerness?” Sure, it has to do with who you love and how you identify with yourself, but to me, it also encompasses who you are. Being seen is so central to both photography and queerness. Queerness needs to be seen, and photography is a tool for visibility. It’s a perfect pair.
Aside from photography, I enjoy spending my days in East Nashville with my three cats and my partner. I love the spirit and energy of East Nashville and I appreciate being part of the community. I especially love the vegan scene! (Confession: I am not 100% vegan, I just prefer/enjoy it.) I also have a passion for vintage clothing and used to be an avid thrifter. I recently bought a bike and am enjoying exploring the greenways.
What inspired you to create "Nashville Queers in Quarantine”?
Pre-Covid, you could find me documenting queer events like Pronoun Party and Bitch Fit, or taking portraits of members of the queer community. When everything shut down, I brainstormed how to keep taking photos while also keeping myself and others safe and following the recommended guidelines.
After seeing the family porch portrait trend pop up, I realized I could do the same and give it a queer lens! In addition to their photos, each participant gets to answer a series of questions giving us a bit of insight into who they are, and reading those answers is one of my favorite parts of the project. That, and actually meeting and spending a bit of time with everyone!
Even though we’ve all been physically distanced, I feel more connected to the queer community now more than ever. Hopefully those participating and keeping up with the project feel connected, too!
How have you gone about selecting your subjects?
Participation has all been due to social media, primarily Instagram. On April 1, I introduced the project on my Instagram page, @emdashphotos, to see if anyone was interested in being involved. Participating is free and remains free, so that there isn’t a barrier to participating during this financially stressful time.
I received a lot of great responses, and I also reached out to a few friends here and there who I’ve photographed before and thought would enjoy participating. As the project has grown, each time someone posts their photos from the series, more people see it, and more people inquire about participating. It’s been beautifully self-sustaining!
I really can’t say enough about how the project has kept itself up because of the people who participate. Everyone who inquires gets a shoot, as long as they are within about a half hour from Nashville and there are enough people in their area who are interested. I hope to get to every single person who has reached out!
"Quarantine has been teaching me about the necessity of practicality. The necessity of family/community. The necessity of solitude, rest, and introspection. Also, envisioning a world for oneself on the other side of this crazy time in life. And how to synthesize those ideas and findings." -- Munk Foo (Cover Model)
Do you hope to continue this or a similar series once quarantine is over?
Yes! The series is evolving to a project I’m calling (for now) the Nashville Queer and Trans Community Photo Project. I loved the project so much that I realized I didn’t want it to end just because quarantine is fading, so it will continue as an ongoing series.
The focus of the series is to expand and maintain the visibility of the queer and trans community in Nashville and foster connections through accessible, casual, fun, and empowering photo shoots. I’ll continue to travel to participants’ homes to keep it accessible, shoots will continue to be free, and will remain brief so those who are less excited about photo shoots can still participate!
The LGBTQ community in Nashville is widespread, so hopefully this ongoing series will provide an opportunity for continued visibility, connection, and empowerment. Those who are interested in participating can message me on Instagram at @emdashphotos!