ASL

A photo story featuring five queer persons from Uzbekistan
19 January 2023
by Kamila Rustambekova

Queerness* is considered to be anti-natural by some, but science proves otherwise. Photographer Kamila Rustambekova has decided to show this by employing visual tools. Her ASL series (an Uzbek word meaning “original”, “real”, “authentic”) is the story of five persons from Uzbekistan who identify themselves as part of the queer community.

Queer is a collective term used to refer to a person whose sexuality or gender identity differs from the one accepted by the social majority.

Kamila Rustambekova

The tashkent-based photographer who worked on the ASL photo series

It’s a narrative about love and freedom. Through nude photographs, I tried to convey the very merging of humans and nature, its extension, our symbiosis.

For me, the photographing process was intimate and delicate. One subject undressed in front of a woman for the first time, while the other struggled to overcome the moment of shyness and awkwardness that arose between us. We did the shoot at dawn, and one of the subjects said he tried to avoid waking up the guy he had spent the night with when getting up so early. Some had their first experience of a nude photo shoot; with others, I was caught by a downpour while running to a lake.

Photography is the process of identifying with other people in photographs. The queer community is incredibly bright, tender, and vibrant to me. As well as natural and real. That’s why the series is called ASL, which means “primal”, “real”, “authentic” in Uzbek.

Sometimes I felt like a sandwich nobody wanted to eat. Not feminine enough for guys, not masculine enough for girls. Gender roles destroy a person’s individuality and choices

Kamila Rustambekova

The tashkent-based photographer who worked on the ASL photo series

The pain, fear and even hatred caused by the world’s rejection of queer people have been replaced by understanding — because the environment shapes the person, and where there is no education, expecting acceptance is pointless. They are frightened when someone encroaches on the imposed norms of society, especially such sensitive ones

Kamila Rustambekova

The tashkent-based photographer who worked on the ASL photo series

I think queer people feel more intensely. At least for now, we have to hide our love. You don’t see it on the street, on the underground, or posters. That’s why it is pure and sincere in every drop, distant but very passionate when it is there. It is present in many, and I hope people will stop being afraid of it

Kamila Rustambekova

The tashkent-based photographer who worked on the ASL photo series

All the world needs for peace is the ability to empathise, understand, and be understood

Kamila Rustambekova

The tashkent-based photographer who worked on the ASL photo series

The creation of the article was supported by Unit, a cross-border community of journalists and activists engaged in LGBTQ+ issues.

This article was originally published here

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