© 2018 Marc Ohrem-Leclef

Jugaad / Of Love and Intimacy

- ongoing -

In 'Jugaad - Of Intimacy and Love' I use the dialogue between photographic portraits and quotes from informal interviews to explore the intersections of homosocial culture, friendship and love between men in India.
I am especially interested in the impacts of patriarchy, 'colonial masculinities', Western culture and contemporary gender identity politics on the lives of my collaborators.

In our conversation, Pawan recalled: "I had this very strong attachment to somebody and we held hands in a very public place in Calcutta and it was the most ordinary thing to do, but for both of us it was very different. It was special, it was almost like being there, being visible to everyone … but hiding everything."
The quote touches on key concerns of my ongoing work in India: the region's history of socially accepted fluidities of sexuality, gender and identity that until today provide room for affections and intimacies between men in ambiguous, unspoken spaces; the struggles of queer individuals that persist even after recent the decriminalization of homosexuality in late 2018; the discourse around LGBTQ organizing with its models of identities that further restrict formerly granted freedoms; the politics of touch across classes and castes.

I collaborate with individuals from a broad range of identities, classes, castes, tribal communities, religions and backgrounds, ranging from scholar to day laborer, to uncover the deeply personal, human side of how social dynamics, tradition and progress affect male relationships in India today.
When I am asked 'when are you finished with your research here, what will your conclusion be?', I answer that it is not me but my collaborators who are writing the book, and that the 'results' are as multifold as their truths shared with me.

Sets of social norms that enable these unspoken 'grey spaces' have been described to me as a form of Jugaad. The term Jugaad inhabits the world of simplistic mechanics - with its inherent lack of a proposal of an ideal solution in lieu of only a 'make do’, in the context of this work it encourages a discourse about what is positive/negative about fulfilling sexual desires in an environment of fluidity, and what the possibilities and limits for the lives of those who desire same sex love in India today are.

Affectionate touch as an expression of any kind of love between men was not something I knew, but longed for, growing up in Germany. My initial curiosity to decode the gestures of affections has given way to documenting the many kinds of love and identities I encounter. Debating my inherently Western notions of identity and intimacy, I realize that my collaborators’ voices–beyond their personal struggles and victories–also reflect India’s critical moment at a crossroads between tradition and progress.

Since early 2017 I have photographed in 13 territories across India (using a medium-format, analog camera) and conducted and recorded 100+ interviews in 7 languages. Once transcribed, I edit quotes and combine them with photographs to create unexpected readings of images and words.