Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2012, photographer Yael Malka has shot for the ACLU, The New York Times and The Fader, to name a few, and has presented her work in various exhibits.
For NYCgo’s Pride Diaries, the Bronx native and Brooklyn-based photographer attended Brooklyn Liberation, a march and rally to support BIPOC trans youth. Malka chronicled the event, which began outside of the Brooklyn Museum and ended at Fort Greene Park. We asked her what it was like to be there and the moments that caught her eye.
What were some memorable moments from the march?
Yael Malka: There was a deck on top of the Brooklyn Museum for the speakers, all of whom were trans people of color. They shared very intimate details of their life, and it was beautiful and intense. One of the messages was this: We’re a strong community, we’re a resilient community because we’ve been put in that position, but we don’t want to have to be resilient, we don’t want to have it be so difficult every day. They simultaneously talked about confidence and beauty and that nothing will stop this fight, and it was just so heart-wrenching.
Another moment that stuck with me as we were marching was when Qween Jean, who led the march and has become a household name in the activism circle, opened up circles and led ballroom voguing competitions, and people would come into the middle and dance. Leiomy Maldonado, a judge on the HBO Max show Legendary, was at the march the whole time and vogued in the middle of one of the circles. I was right in the front and it was the best moment of my life.
At the end of the march, at Fort Greene Park, Qween Jean led a prayer. We made this huge circle and asked all the trans youth to come into the middle. We said a prayer for them and the beauty that they are, the beauty that they hold, and [said] a prayer for them to live long lives. That was another beautiful but heart-wrenching moment that will definitely stick with me.
Are there any images you took that stand out to you?
YM: The portrait I took of Shéár Avory. We were on the upper deck of the Brooklyn Museum, and they were like, “Oh, do you think I would get in trouble if I stood on top of the museum, like on the glass?”—literally the ceiling of the ground floor of the Brooklyn Museum; it’s very high up. I was like, “I don't know,” and they were like, “I’m a troublemaker; I’m going to do it anyway.” I held their hand as they got up and stood with their four-inch heels on top of the Brooklyn Museum, and I shot them from low down looking up at them, and they just looked so beautiful and powerful and strong. I think that was a really great example of a collaboration between two people when the subject trusts the person who’s photographing them.*
Your work tends to focus on the exploration of intimacy. Was that theme present for you in this politically charged context?
YM: It was such a contrast to last year’s march because we were all still wearing masks and we didn’t know what we know now. It was the first time that I hugged someone in months at that march last year, which was really special but also scary. This year, people were marching without masks, people were hugging, people were close…and so it’s amazing to see the changes over the year. It was a beautiful feeling to see people able to be close in a way that is really needed in times like this among the queer community, especially at a march that is about showing up to support trans lives.
What is it about photographing the queer community that resonates with you?
YM: I think right off the bat is that it’s my community. There’s a baseline trust and intimacy that is already cultivated through that connection, which I really love. I’m always interested in telling the stories of queer people or imaging queer people and just getting as much representation as possible out there. It’s important for me to have the queer community seen through the lens and the gaze of a queer photographer.
What does Pride mean to you this year?
YM: I think the idea of Pride on a mainstream scale is not actually what Pride is to a lot of queer folks. Pride is a celebration, but it’s also a protest. That is what Pride is rooted in: the Stonewall protest led by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. While it’s important to celebrate—and there was so much of that with the outfits, the dancing, the voguing, the laughs, the smiles, the music—it was also a protest. It’s important to remember that there’s still so much that is holding us back that we need to fight for.
In the original post of this article, we misidentified Shéár Avory's pronouns. We regret the error.