Tara Violet Niami
My childhood love for Joan of Arc, her strength, spirituality and gender bending, has influenced my identity as a queer adult woman who does not fit the heternormative mold of what a woman is expected to be. The series Royal Warriors, shot in rural England and Wales, is my ode to the fictional and historically marginalized people of medieval times and tales who were unjustly typically seen as lesser than men and often suffered terrible fates for their transgressions, Joan of Arc being one of them.
The images of Royal Warriors are staged scenes illustrating themes of contemplation, transfixion, protection, strength, liberation, and unity. There is also an underlying spiritual element to the work that was inspired by reading the writings of female heretic mystics of medieval times, relegated to the margins and even shunned from society.
Photographed in skeletons of medieval church and castle structures and by a moody seascape, my muses who identify as either female or gender non conforming, and many of whom are also queer, appear as archetypes of warriors, saints and royal figures. The choice of archetypes and their garments were inspired by their individual personalities, gender identities and cultural identities. As an expression of my queerness and touching on my own “masculinity” as defined by society, I appear in the work as a squire and a pageboy.
Royal Warriors was shot on medium format film on my Mamiya 645 camera. I shot in natural mainly overcast light, taking advantage of its mood and pastel effect on the color palette of the photographs. Inspired by the illustration of medieval illuminated manuscripts in aspect ratio and look, I shot on both negative and transparency film. A number of the images were shot on expired film-rare Afghachrome as well as Kodak slide film-a risky endeavor that I took on to utilize the discoloration and decay of the negative or positive film to make the images look as though they were unearthed from the long ago past. These discolored images also echo early 20th century autochromes, a large inspiration for my color film photography.
Royal Warriors is a revisionist take on the past, mixing antiquated aesthetics with impactful, modern storytelling. Despite consisting mainly of images of others, and referencing a time period I never lived through, this series is very personal and the personal is political. I dedicate Royal Warriors to Elie, an inspiring muse of the work, who tragically passed away at a young age, last fall. The images I made with them, in the series, now exist as a remembrance of them, honoring their beauty and resilience as a Black non binary femme person, and a way for their spirit to forever live on.