To See & Be Seen: 8 Powerful Queer Photo Books

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I have a new obsession: queer photography books. I can page through them for hours. I have never been particularly drawn to art books. I mean, I like them. I appreciate art! But it’s never the table I run towards in a bookstore. Then, a few years ago, I bought We Are Everywhere, a gorgeous book of queer history that includes hundreds and hundreds of photos. I took it home, sat down on my couch, and poured through the whole thing. Did I cry? Yes.

There’s something comfortingly incontrovertible about photographs. I know that queer people have always been here. I know we’re everywhere. I know that queerness exists in infinite variations. It’s why I read so many queer books, every kind I can get my hands on. But seeing the evidence of that is a different kind of knowing. It’s powerful to look at photographs of queer people thriving and celebrating. It’s powerful to look at photos of queer history, to see the faces of the people who have made my life — so many queer lives — possible. It’s powerful to see photos of queer people just being: washing the dishes, lounging around their houses, walking in the woods. And it’s powerful to look at art that is distinctly queer, photographers in which artists explore what queerness means to them.

These eight books are just a few of the queer photo books out there. I’ve focused mostly on books of contemporary photos rather than historical ones. I’ve also chosen to highlight books of portraits. Looking at portraits of queer people is a way to see and be seen. These portraits, for me, have been mirrors and windows and bridges and portals. They remind me that I’m here, and also that my way of being queer is just one of many, that there are infinite queer possibilities and stories out there, and that all of them deserve to be seen and celebrated.

Cover of Queer Love in Color

Queer Love in Color by Jamal Jordan

This gorgeous book is a visual celebration of love between queer and trans people of color. It contains interviews and portraits of queer couples and queer families of color from across the U.S. and beyond. Jamal Jordan’s beautiful photos, paired with stories of people of many ages, races, genders, and sexualities, makes for a vital book that will make so many people feel seen.

Self-Evident Truths cover

Self-Evident Truths by iO Tillett Wright

This book contains photos of 10,000 LGBTQIA+ Americans. Artist iO Tillet Wright set out to capture the many shades the staggering diversity of queer people, and the result is this book, the culmination of a ten-year project. Wright photographed people from all 50 states, and the portraits, of course, are all strikingly different. This is the book I want to shove in people’s hands when they say things like, “but queer people don’t live there!” We are everywhere.

cover of Butch

Butch by Kanithea Powell

The word butch has a long and complicated history, and even (especially?) in the queer community, it’s a term often associated with particular stereotypes. In this collection of photographs, artist Kanithea Powell breaks apart those stereotypes, explores the many variations of butch identity, expression, and aesthetics.

cover To Survive on This Shore

To Survive on This Shore by Jess T. Dugan

Photos of queer and trans elders have always felt sacred to me. There are still so few of them and fewer still accompanied by the stories of those elders told in their own words. That’s why this book feels so special. Dugan spent five years traveling the country, photographing and speaking with older transgender people. This stunning book documents that project, including photos and interviews of trans and gender-nonconforming adults from diverse backgrounds and with very different life experiences.

cover of Eye to Eye

Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians by JEB

This classic lesbian photo book, first self-published it in 1979, was just released last year. JEB’s beautiful photos of lesbians of going about their everyday lives were revolutionary when they first appeared, offering queer women a rarely-seen glimpse of themselves. It’s a book that feels just as relevant and powerful today.

Cover of We Are Here

We Are Here by Jasmin Hernandez

We Are Here is a vibrant collection of profiles of 50 artists of color working today, with a focus on queer, trans, nonbinary, and woman artists. The book includes interviews and portraits of the artists, as well as photos of their art, workspaces, creative processes, materials, and more. These artists work in a variety of creative fields, but all are engaged in transforming the art world, and making space for historically marginalized voices.

cover of New Queer Photography

New Queer Photography by Benjamin Wolbergs

This photography anthology includes the work of 52 contemporary photographers, both well-known and established artists and younger, lesser-known ones. The photographs explore gender, desire, assimilation, queer history, the effects of racism and colonialism on queer life, and much more. There’s a wide range of styles, including experimental photography, portraits, and photos of everyday life. The book also includes some artist interviews and essays from other queer artists and writers.

Cover of American Boys

American Boys by Soraya Zaman

This is a book of portraits of trans men and transmasculine people from all over the United States. These portraits, and essays that go with them, reflect a beautiful diversity of trans identities, gender expression, and masculinity. The book focuses on younger trans people (mostly under age 35); it’s a joy to see so many photographs of young people celebrating their gender.

These eight are only the beginning! If you’re looking for more gorgeousness, definitely checkout this list of queer photo books from 2020. There’s almost no overlap, which means hundreds more amazing photos of queer people and queer history for you to enjoy!