Portfolio: Beyond The Drama by Saara Mäntylä

Beyond The Drama

Saara Mäntylä

I knock on the door. A couple of unfamiliar faces appear before me. We shake hands; I enter. I look around the apartment with intent and persistence. Masked in small talk, the questions I ask them touch on sensitive matters—about love, about achieving happiness. How do they let go of a comfortable, even selfish solitude and summon the courage to fade away in someone else’s needs and desires? Or do they fade away? These people stand in my frame, bright and independent . . . yet so tuned into each other. Alas, the nuances of loving are many.

In Beyond The Drama, I examine young love and relationships in the queer community of Montréal, Canada. I found the people portrayed in the series on a quest to uncover diverse representations of textured interpersonal dynamics. The majority of the people in the series are unknown to me personally. The photographic scenes unfold in their private homes, which I light up as studios. Bare and exposed by the revealing lighting, the details in the environment are fleshed out for the viewer to investigate. Full of material dynamics, the homes I visit are like clusters of opportunities that I reshuffle and rearrange until the storytelling can be carried through the visual narrative. The scenes are made, molded, and staged. In dialogue with my subjects and the nuances of their living spaces, I create a carefully arranged visual record of each encounter. The photographic outcome is as much an embodiment of the individuals’ projections as it is of my own imagination. The stories I tell are free from structure, but laden with emotion and reflexivity. They are often liberated contemplations of myself in an outline of another.

Although such serene representations of happiness within romantic relationships are at times adorned with an almost utopian overtone, they encompass much of the multilayered social experience in the world under and for the queer gaze. As Rainer Maria Rilke puts it: “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”1

NOTE 1. Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, trans. M.D. Herter (New York: Norton, 1993).

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