Media Amateurs in Gay Culture

Visual self-representation in internet-based social networks provides the starting point for our historico-cultural examination of amateur photography in male homosexual culture from 1900 onwards. The significance of self-images for the construction of identity – in mainstream culture as well as in subcultures – is a key aspect of media culture research.


We employ approaches drawn from cultural science, art history and gender theory to determine whether and to what extent images produced by media amateurs have shaped specific viewing culture(s) and (subcultural) memory culture(s).


The aim of the research project Media Amateurs in Gay Culture is to evaluate non-professional photographs and self-narratives from archives in Germany, Scandinavia and the United States in comparison with pop-cultural and avant-garde images and texts.


The project investigates the dynamics of social taboos, the forging of identity and the practice of visual self-representation by homosexual media amateurs. Taking gay male self-representation on the Web 2.0 as a point of departure, it addresses issues related to the history of private communication through images and the hybridization of private spheres in gay milieus, an area on which surprisingly little research has been done to date.


One of the methods used in the project is the collection and analysis of images of body stagings, from the media history and laissez-faire culture of the 1920s, to persecution in the 1930s and 40s, to the gay rights movement from the 1970s through to the present day. This raises questions such as: what strategies of use and patterns of gaze develop in times of danger or liberalization? What iconographic systems determine visual identification schemes? How has image content been sexually charged by non-professional photographers, and what kind of role models have they had? What is the interrelation between private and professional images? What does self-representation mean for a genealogy of gay memory culture in the context of a dominantly heterosexual society?


Empirical evidence will enable us to examine the scope of categories such as the private and the public, high culture and subculture, normativity and deviance, hetero- and homosexuality in a new light. Particular emphasis will be placed on a comparison of visual cultures in Germany, Scandinavia and North America.

The research project Media Amateurs in Gay Culture is being funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) from 2010 until 2012.