© 2018 Marc Ohrem-Leclef

I am not sure why the memory of my encounter with Amir came to me in this moment, sitting on a JetAirways flight to Bangalore, in February 2019.
Amir and I at India Gate, Delhi - 2009

Zameen Asmaan Ka Farq (formerly Jugaad - Of Intimacy and Love)

- ongoing -

Through photographs and texts the project 'Zameen Asmaan Ka Farq'
(As far apart as the Earth is from the Sky *) documents the culture of touch between Indian men who live at the intersections of homosocial culture, friendship and love.

In a 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, being visible to everyone … but hiding everything.”

In India, public display of affection between men is socially accepted and understood to be an expression of deep friendship and brotherhood. Documenting this culture of touch and the politics surrounding it, my work in ‘Zameen’ addresses the varied dimensions that ‘love’ can embody for men, including love existing in unspoken, fluid spaces, beyond the obviously visible and assumed.

In deeply private conversations, my collaborators share untold stories that reflect the ways some benefit from the sexually ambiguous spaces that leave others feeling trapped. Some relationships I have documented shine a fresh light on non-heteronormative lifestyles and how they are being normalized in pockets of Indian societies. Sudheer, a gender-queer, gay identifying sex-worker in Maharashtra told me of the pressures both they and their wife Vidya feel to conform to clear-cut heteronormative and queer identities offered by mainstream, Western identity politics.

Indeed, investigating this dilemma–a diminishing acceptance of traditional fluidity of gender and sexuality as more narrowly defined identities take a hold in Indian culture and legislation–is an urgent part of the conversation I hope to initiate with my work.

Against a backdrop of divisive nationalist politics, my collaborator's voices reveal human struggles and victories in same sex love/s. In light of the recent abolition the colonial-era law 'Section 377' that criminalized homo- sexuality until 2018, their first-hand accounts may help calibrate both language and models of identities employed in forthcoming legislation towards greater equality.

In a culture that has traditionally allowed men to be intimate with other men without attaching considerations of identity to these intimacies, I purpose- fully include collaborators who may not have had to consider their identity in terms of sexuality, or choose to not disclose it.

Beginning my research in 2016, the work has since brought me to urban centers, remote villages and tribal hamlets in sixteen Indian states.
I collaborate with individuals from a wide range of castes, classes and religions to make analog, medium-format portraits and record our conversations (to date 120+ recorded conversations in 12 languages).

* Zameen Asmaan Ka Farq - Hindi/Urdu: 'As far apart as the Earth is from the Sky' - recorded in a conversation in Northern India in 2017.