Meg Turner on Using an Antiquated Process to Explore Gender, Queerness, and Power

Posted inPhotography and Design

Meg Turner has been photographing the intricacies and vulnerabilities of her closest friends through the lens of a camera for years. Her strong, arresting photos empower her subjects while simultaneously reconstructing symbols of power, gender, sex, and overconsumption that have been subconsciously and universally ingrained in our minds.

“I invite my colleagues to reimagine the symbols of power, sex, gender, and wealth often used in advertising to seduce us into cycles of consumption and labor,” Turner told me. “We use those same symbols in a style I refer to as ‘queer maximalism,’ celebrating rest, fantasy, and relaxation.” Turner has a knack for representing historically marginalized bodies while simultaneously challenging power structures. “While not everyone I photograph is queer, I often work with friends whose bodies have historically been marginalized and photographed without being able to control the lens or the narrative— so flipping that power dynamic is an important part of any shoot.”

Turner complements this flipping of the power dynamic with a sense of magic that lies within the unique format of her photography: tintype. This style is created by capturing a direct positive on a delicate sheet of metal that’s covered with a dark lacquer and used as the backing for emulsion. Tintypes gained popularity in the 1860s, and while they’re best known as a photographic medium of the past, Turner’s works are not what you’d consider “idealized nostalgia.” Rather, it’s a form of self-expression, an additional method of reformatting the lens through which her photography is viewed.

“Because I am making the plate on-site and developing the images in real-time, whoever is sitting for a photograph gets to see and respond immediately,” Turner said. “When I first started taking tintypes, that was also my first time doing portraiture. I used re-staging traditional photographs to learn composition and camera angles.”

“I found how freeing it was for people who might be nervous in front of the camera to copy a pose that resonated with them,” she continued. “I didn’t want to be telling someone how to pose, so it was a relief to give that power to the person in front of the lens.”

Turner’s work is highly expressive, allowing her subjects to consider themselves individually instead of how others might view them. “This led to a special way of shooting that is intensely collaborative, and wet plate plays into that,” she said. “The other thing that draws me to the wet plate process is that the image is reversed from right to left— like your image in a mirror. So not only is it a rendition of yourself in silver; it is a photographic process that shows you how you see yourself instead of how the world sees you, and I love that.”

Next month, Burn Barrel Press will release Turner’s new photography book WET, a hot pink, foil-stamped collection of 45 tintype portraits created in both New Orleans and New York City from 2014 through 2022. “I never want the viewer to forget I am photographing contemporary life and people,” Turner elaborated, “people who are fun, sexy, powerful, and fierce. I wanted the pop of hot pink to express all that joy while the monochrome images express the seriousness of our desires.” The book also includes various digitally colorized images created from original analog tintypes.

All photographs within WET share themes of pleasure, unbridled fierceness, vulnerability, and an unwavering gaze interrogating the philosophy that leisure and security come only after a lifetime of work. “Capitalism is omnipresent in all of the work we make— whether photographing its devastating effects, its banal structures, or the joys and love we create in spite of it,” Turner explained. While there’s a nostalgia inherent to an antique photographic process, WET beautifully translates it into contemporary themes. This modern take on vintage photography demonstrates the strength of challenging the discourse and changing its course for the better.  

You can pre-order WET here.