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These Tender Photos Capture Queer Culture In America's Deep South (NSFW)
"I grew up in a religious household – my mother was raised in the Sanctified Holy Church and my father was raised Southern Baptist. As a result of the beliefs I had been taught since birth, I did not feel comfortable coming out as queer until I was 21 years old," says photographer Peyton Fulford, now 24, about the motivation behind her project Infinite Tenderness. "This photo series came to fruition around the same time, so I publicly came out when I started sharing this project online."
Fulford grew up in Albany, Georgia, in the Bible Belt of America's deep south. "It was difficult to navigate the space I was growing up in because I could not relate to it or understand my place within it. I never felt like my truest, most open self when conforming to the culture and ideologies around me," she remembers. "I realised later on in my life that I was repressing many parts of my identity just to stay safe and not be ridiculed for who I really was."
In 2016, inspired by those early experiences, she began using her camera to explore intimacy and identity within the LGBTQ+ community in the American south; the camera became a tool that enabled her to connect with people and access spaces that she hadn’t the courage to before. "I was still in my undergrad programme for photography and started this ongoing project with the intention to create an accepting space for queer kids growing up in small towns and rural areas. Most of the people I started photographing were close friends or people I admired from a distance, who inspired me with how open they were about their identities." For Fulford, the ever-growing constellation of pictures she has taken for Infinite Tenderness is a visual representation of youth across America, and one she’ll keep adding to as the years unfold.
Fulford has remained in her home state and now lives in Atlanta. In 2017, she received a BFA in photography from Columbus State University. Here, she shares a selection of the pictures she’s taken across the years, and talks about the sense of belonging that unites them all.