Just ten days after the show opened, the photographs in Sage Sohier’s “At Home with Themselves” felt surprisingly dated—and not just because of ’80s-era fashion and hairstyles. This dated feeling had to do with something more profound: the Supreme Court’s landmark June 26 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples. The hidden America portrayed in these images has more confidently come out of the shadows to proudly proclaim that love is love.
But it is these shadows that Sohier so beautifully explores, capturing her subjects, who seem safe in the comfort of their homes, where there was no need to be guarded. These photographs, however, do not outwardly present the sense of tension prevailing at the time; they show instead a different side of the narrative, the often unexplored dynamic of the two people in a queer relationship.
In Doris & Debbie with Junyette, San Diego, 1987, Doris, a black woman, compassionately, yet forcefully, stares into the eyes of her young daughter. Sitting on a bed watching the interaction, Doris’s partner, Debbie, a white woman, is cast into the background, which suggests a strain in her relationship with Doris. Similarly, Sohier highlights the harrowing reality of the AIDS crisis in David & Eric, Boston, 1986, in which a gay couple stare longingly into the distance, resigned to the eventuality of life cut short by that not-mentioned-in-polite-company disease.
The experience of seeing these photographs and being at home with these queer couples was intensified by the exhibition hanging on the gallery’s opposite wall, Leon Borensztein’s “American Portraits.” This series, created at around the same time as Sohier’s, depicts what were thought of as everyday Americans—with not a queer in sight.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 79.