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Cruisin’ down Queer Street: A conversation with the creators of ‘The Q-Sides’ photo exhibit
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Galeria de la Raza’s latest exhibit, “The Q Sides,” is a play on the classic imagery of the “East Side Story” music compilations of the 1950s and ‘60s, which re-imagines the original East Side Story photographs with LGBTQI people. El Tecolote had the opportunity to speak with the artists Vero Majano, Kari Orvik and Amy Martinez to learn how this show came together.

What was the inspiration behind “The Q Sides” show?

Vero: I’ve kind of always been visualizing something like this in my mind…When I used to go to “You and I” dances in the Mission in the ‘80s, I was a wallflower—younger than most people there—and I would watch the homies and homegirls slow dancing to oldies like “I love you for all seasons” by The Fuzz, and imagine that I was the one dancing with the girl.

Then I would mark up the back of my East Side Story records with the initials of the girls I had crushes on, and put them next to the song that made me think of them—like next to “Yes I’m Ready” by Barbara Mason, I would write “JS” for Jackie Santana, and add letters like “TL” if they were in the Tiny Locas.

It was serendipity when I met DJ Brown Amy; we ran into each other and started talking about the East Side Story albums, and both said we should reshoot them. With this show, I’m confessing a feeling. I wanted the neighborhood that I grew up in to be part of the installation, so when I saw that Galeria de la Raza was offering the Regen grant to artists, we applied and are thrilled to be having the show there.

Kari: Vero is my partner of 11 years—we fell in love listening to Brenton Wood’s “I like the way you love me” on repeat. Listening to oldies makes me feel the way I had always wanted to feel growing up. I did not know as a teenager growing up in Alaska that the desire I felt then would look like a shorty homie from the Mission.

How did the project come together and what was the process like?

Vero: The show couldn’t have happened without all three of us. I contributed to the vision of the show, fundraised for the project and helped to produce and direct the shoots. My brother’s homeboy Camilo Rios is in the car club Bay Bombs, and he helped me locate the lowriders we needed for each shoot. We were really straightforward that the shoots would be hella gay, and no one said no.

Kari: As a portrait photographer specializing in the historic photographic process of tintypes, I spend a lot of my days directing people in front of the camera. For the Q-Sides, the models, lowriders, original poses, and location all became the subjects I was working with in front of the camera, and I became the choreographer of these images. I love working with people. It was really special working with each person’s body, pose, expression and interaction, and having them come together with the car and the location to create this new visual narrative, that was based on the original images as well as our vision for each shot.

Amy: I thought up the idea alongside Vero and collaborated in directing the shoots. I am a DJ of queer soul party Hard French, drummer and hairstylist.

Why do you think it is important for LGBTQI communities to be highlighted in this project?

Vero: The photographs on each of the original album covers show a Latino homeboy posing with his ride, his lady or with his homies. The “B-side” of a single is a song not expected to become a hit. The Q-sides is the flipside of the B-side, where queer homies are proud of their rides, their ladies, and their joto/a homies. Q-Sides includes my queer experience and fantasies into lowrider culture.

Kari: There’s no way to improve on the photographs from the original album covers. They are authentic documents that organically came out of a certain time, place and culture. The Q-Sides photographs are not necessarily any one person’s fantasy, but they open the door to the possibility of inserting your fantasy in place of a more traditional narrative. I think that growing up you can have a sense that you don’t see what you desire reflected in your environment—even if you don’t know exactly who or what you are looking for, it can feel like there’s no place for your desire. We wanted to represent a spectrum of queer culture in these photographs that opens the door to those possibilities.

Amy: I think it is important to celebrate lowrider culture in the context that Q-sides has, because there is not a ton of queer representation within the culture. When I was a kid I desired to be that homeboy with the car and girl by his side and this project has made that desire a reality. It goes really deep for me. When we started the project I was definitely wary of working with the lowrider clubs, I guess it was more hesitant whether they would want their cars involved in such a queer project. I was proven wrong, all of the folks in the car clubs have been so wonderful to work with and excited about what we are doing, this could not of happen without them.

The opening reception for Q-Sides, featuring classic lowriders and a DJ spinning the oldies, is Friday, June 5 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Galeria de la Raza, 2857 24th Street. The exhibit runs through July 5.

Story by: Mayra Lopez