I’ve owned many decks of cards in my life. There’s been a whole slew of those anonymous decks with their intricately forgettable red or blue hued patterns that I’ve bought in equally unmemorable locations. Many of those got lost on road trips or at the beach or in the pocket of some backpack. There are also decks I’ve purchased as souvenirs. Somehow it seemed that the most sensible way to hang onto my memory of Stonehenge or the Oregon coast or that painting I particularly loved at the Met was to buy 52 miniature images of it and shuffle. I like these kinds of decks, the ones where there’s a theme of sorts. So naturally, I was drawn to the Pur-suit deck.
The Pur-suit deck © Naima Green
Pur-suit is photographer Naima Green’s body of work documenting an open cast of queer subjects. Splitting her time between Brooklyn, New York and Mexico City, Green is a photographer who has a talent for catching people in moments of ease or solace. A previous project of hers involved photographing black and brown people posing in nature as a way of interrupting assumptions as to where these subjects belonged—to show people of color surrounded by scenes of tranquility. This summer, Green took over The New Yorker’s Instagram account filling the feed with photographs from beaches and bodies soaking in sunlight and saltwater.
She continually shows the communities she’s part of in spaces that feel intimate. In a sense, Green’s lens is broadening the stories of brown skin and queer bodies to include something that looks more like permission than persecution. One of the things I noticed the first time I looked at the photographs in Pur-suit, was the way so many of the subjects seemed to be holding back a smile. 54 of the portraits from Pur-suit were chosen for the final deck, which is your typical set of playing cards—the standard 52 plus two jokers—if your typical deck of playing cards had 54 unique images of queer women, non-binary, and trans people on each card.
The project began several ways, but some will inevitably think of Catherine Opie’s Dyke Deck when they see this new set of cards. Opie is a fine art photographer who in the early to mid nineties—at the height of the AIDS crisis—created a deck of cards filled with portraits of lesbians living in the Bay Area. The subjects in Opie’s deck are situated into distinct groups—suits if you will. Hearts were couples, spades were butches, diamonds were femmes, and clubs were jocks. The categorization gave people a sense of place and a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a dyke. It was a type of home. It was an archive.
In the kickstarter video that Green made to help fund the making of the Pur-suit deck, she sits on the floor of an apartment with Opie’s deck in her hands. As she thumbs through the black and white images on the cards, she describes how after coming across it, she couldn’t stop thinking about the deck, couldn’t stop imagining what her own archive might look like. Because as much as she recognized her community in the Dyke Deck, she also recognized that there were people missing.
The people in Green’s deck are the photographer’s friends, but there are also many strangers. Green didn’t just want to capture faces that were familiar to her. As a queer woman of color, she was well aware of the queer perspectives that get centered when represented at all. She hoped to capture those people who are marginalized even within the queer community. When Green put out an open call for models, she received over 800 responses. Shuffling through the cards of Pur-suit, it’s clear that something different is happening in this deck.
You’ll see groups like Brooklyn Boihood—a community organizing collective of queer and trans bois of color, BUFU—a group building solidarity between Black and Asian diasporas, and the Yellowjackets Collective—an intersectional group of queer Yellow American femmes. The cards show couples wrapped in each others arms or carefully posed with dominant/submissive gazes. There are individuals too. Some of them might even be familiar. Recognizable queer writers and musicians and even photographers find their way into the cards.
Pur-suit could have been a book or a show. It’s rare for a photo project to become a deck. And yet, there’s something all the more cohesive about seeing these images in card form. Each photograph is vital to the whole. Without it, no game can properly be played. The cards become a representation of queer community. The necessity of a complete deck mirrors the ways queer communities look after one another, how each member is integral to the whole.
The deck format also prompts viewers to search for patterns. What does it mean for an image to be a heart versus a spade? Are the subjects on face cards calculated? Unlike Opie’s deck there are no obvious categories. Hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds all hold pictures of couples and groups and jocks and femmes. The photographer Justine Kurland is on the nine of clubs, and the writer Jenna Wortham is on the seven of hearts. The mind wants to find a pattern, but maybe that’s the point. In today’s deck, identity is rendered messier, categories that once offered a sense of belonging are now being dismantled. A single person can be a heart. A jock can also be a femme.
The boundaries of the Pur-suit deck feel less defined. The color images bleed to the edge of the card, and unlike the plain white background of Opie’s black and white portraits, Green has draped a loose array of creamy colored gauze and silk fabrics behind her subjects. It makes the scene feel more playful and dreamlike. It’s as if the person sitting looks out at you from a cozy fort. It’s intimate and encompassing. Like the forts we play inside as children, there’s a sense of protection wrapped up in all the pearly strewn fabrics.
It’s refreshing to see so many different queers looking so comfortable. We may not know their whole story, but we know that for a moment they sat in front of this plush backdrop and were documented either smiling or kissing or posing or laughing. They could put on a costume or they could take off their shirt. Whatever they did, it was preserved. It’s no longer the Dyke Deck. It’s not even the ‘Queer Deck’. Green’s cards don’t try to define a group, but the pursuit of preserving something that feels inclusive is ultimately achieved.
You can purchase a deck directly from the photographer at this website.
Enjoy more great photography:
- Chobi Mela IX: Bangladesh’s International Festival for Photography
- Life Before Death <div>noch mal leben: portraits of the dying
- Story of Man
- 25 Years of Photography: Balkans to USA