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25 January 2023

Victoria Jung Documents The Magic of Queer Life in New Orleans

25 January 2023 - Written by Marta Blanchietti

In her work, Fever Dream, the German photographer portrays the reality of the LGBT community in Louisiana, a mystical place where being part of a group becomes the main strength of the inhabitants against the uncertainty of the weather and natural forces.

What about creating a photo documentary series that goes in a completely different direction than the "usual" documentary and photojournalistic photography? And what about starting it without having a precise story in mind but only feeling that "there, I will find something"? The strength of Victoria Jung's Fever Dream is an intimate documentation of New Orleans, where the photographer's soul and her research emerge gently while visually narrating the life of the queer community there. The stillness and the apparent silence of the place clearly emerge from the shots taken by Victoria Jung, bringing to light intimate documentation of this suspended city and its inhabitants.

The story about how the idea of Fever Dream is born gives another layer of complexity to the series. It all started before 2020, when Victoria Jung was still attending her BA in photography in Germany and decided to begin a new project, without knowing precisely what she was going to deal with. Seeing a documentary on the situation in New Orleans, a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina and that lives in the constant fear of natural disaster, she thought that that place would have been the right one to narrate something new and unusual. And this prevision becomes true. She travelled different times to New Orleans between 2020 and 2022, living at a friend's house and slowly starting to discover part of herself in relation to the place while walking into the street, meeting people, and talking with them.

The energy that brought Victoria Jung there, in an unknown city near the river Mississippi, was so intense but for no apparent reason until she went there and lived with the local community. "After Hurricane Katrina, people live with this constant sense of threat and fear of natural disaster. On top of that it is a place where it is clear the lack of caring by the government. Visible in the streets by crumbling infrastructures or the frequency of funerals. Apparently, who live in poor neighbourhoods, under bad health and social conditions, lose loved ones way too often. However – and despite the dark mood of the place – people always get out of this." In a place where life proceeds on a fine line between calm and storm, the citizens are bound by a strong sense of community and mutual support. Turning funerals into colourful parades.

In our interview, indeed, Victoria Jung underlined that there are so many celebrations and parades, and "people empower themselves with culture", not only during carnivals or special occasions. In particular, throughout the whole year, on Sunday, the local population organize the so-called “second lines, where they remember and honour people that passed away.” Once she arrived there and at a first glance, welcoming energy was in the air, despite being in a city that is experiencing a social and economic regression: "In this place with an uncertain future, all the energy flows into the here and now." Fever Dream goes further and explores essentially the so-called Queerdos community. They are a group of "travellers who wandered restlessly across the country in search of a life free of convention," mostly artists and young people. This sub-community is fairly well received by the local population, which is generally open-minded - according to Victoria Jung's experience. Even though some problems are arising, principally related to the growing gentrification happening in New Orleans, following this crowd of new inhabitants, who live in specific neighbourhoods, trendy and underground at the same time. In this sense, the Queerdos community - a mixture of individuals coming from all over the U.S. - remain relatively separated from the rest of the population, - having, for example, their personal public rituals and parades- but, despite this, the people sincerely respect each other. Clearly, this is the reason that brings this group to decide to settle down in New Orleans.

Walking with curiosity in her eyes down the streets and appreciating with her incredible sensitiveness the magic of the place, Victoria Jung's main aim for this long-term photographic project slowly became documenting the city's development and changes. She focuses on how the inhabitants always build up again everything - the houses, the bars, the social bounds, and the personal and collective spirit. One of the project's main themes is the importance of being part of a community or a social group that implies a particular identity and habits, and that become psychological and economic support in crisis situations. The community documented is extreme in many senses - in the way of living, of experiencing love and friendship, in the manner in which people look and dress. However, at the same time, it is also incredibly intimate. The energy that flows from the photos taken by Victoria Jung narrates of a group of people that was -and maybe still is- in search of its own place and identity, its own home, and find it in a city that is uncertain, suspended, somehow dark and decadent, creating a strong contrast with the colourfulness of their dresses, houses, and parades. Nevertheless, New Orleans became the home they needed, the place to express themselves without fear of being judged or discriminated. "Even if it is not always easy, it is the way it is."

Fever Dream's aim was to go in a different direction from some of the most famous documentary photographic projects - that sometimes, with their visual approach, tend to confirm and perpetrate specific stereotypes and points of view. Indeed, one of its most relevant elements is its social aspect that is behind the visual research. In relation to this, Victoria Jung decided to combine the first edit of the photos "with drawings and collages of the printed pictures by members of the community," recognizing their fundamental role in the execution of the project in the way it is. These collages - realized during “informal and funny evening meetings” - are considered a central part of the series and as artworks themselves, granting a genuine intellectual property right to those who made them - also from an economic point of view. In this sense, the artist commented "I am planning to do a book and create something together with them" to go deeper in the project, "and I want to be able to pay them for the work they do," selling their artworks as she can sell her owns. The most important thing is to "create a story with people you portrait, sitting with them, getting to know their friends and family and giving them the possibility to have a good time with you, not only as a photographer but as a person."

This is the core of this project, representing in its sensibility one possible new way to approach documentary photography that remembers us that humanity still exists in its most beautiful and colourful form, also among the ruins of houses blown away by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

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All photos © Victoria Jung, from the series Fever Dream

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Victoria Jung (1991) works as a documentary and portrait photographer. She completed two bachelor's degrees in communication design at the HTWG Konstanz and in photography at the FH Dortmund in Germany. She is currently studying for a Master’s degree in photography in Dortmund parallel to her freelance work and independent projects. Since 2019 she has been photographing in the journalistic field for numerous magazines and newspapers. In the printed German DIE ZEIT, she photographed the weekly portrait column "Who are you?" from October 2019 to January 2022. Her personal work mainly focuses on social phenomena in sub- and youth cultures in relation to their local environment. As well as the human quest for belonging to a community as a crucial part of life. She is interested in the politics in everyday life, the struggle for one's own (free) spaces and the effects of systemic upheavals on a small scale. Find her work on Instagram and PhMuseum.

Marta Blanchietti (1998) graduated in Economics and Management of Arts and Cultural Activities from Ca' Foscari University with a thesis entitled Narrative and counter-narrative: visions other from contemporary Syria, focusing on the role of art as a form of cultural resistance. As an independent curator, she focuses primarily on photography and contemporary art. She has curated several exhibitions between Venice and Turin. In addition, she has collaborated with several galleries and institutions, such as Ikona Gallery and Galleria Victoria Miro, and Viafarini, in Milan. She is the founder, with Carola Del Pizzo, of the curatorial duo Exo Art Lab and a founding member of the cultural association 51 Lire.

Written by

Marta Blanchietti

Reading time

9 minutes

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