June is the month for all things Pride, but photographer Michael Liani focuses his entire life on queer culture, highlighted recently by his “LGBTQ+ LOVE” portrait series showcasing Israeli LGBTQ couples and their families at home.
Liani began working on the series during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, when lockdowns brought life to a standstill.
All that was left, said Liani, was his profile on Instagram, the social media platform that celebrates everything visual.
Masking up, he hopped on his scooter and drove to dozens of couples and families around the country, photographing them and their loved ones at home for what he calls “an archive of love.”
“I wanted to visualize what love looks like for different people,” said Liani, 35, who was raised in a traditional Moroccan family in the small northern town of Migdal Haemek and now lives in Tel Aviv with his boyfriend.
People often didn’t want to take part, or had to be convinced, said Liani.
“People protect their private lives, and I understand that,” he said. “Home is their private, protected space, especially if you’re queer.”
But he wanted to expose those love lives to the world at large.
The project was an immediate hit on Instagram, getting widely shared and followed.
That was gratifying, said Liani.
“It wasn’t cool for my generation to be queer, and that feeling stays in your DNA, it’s in your bones,” he said. “There’s still so much fear in the older generation, it makes me cry.”
Liani certainly had his own struggles.
He left home in his late teens for Tel Aviv, where he discovered himself and his photography skills.
Liani ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in photography and then a master’s in the photography arts from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
His final project during his undergraduate degree was photographing his own family and queer culture, creating a new archive of his childhood in a Moroccan family.
“That’s why photography is amazing. It was phototherapy with my family,” he said. “My family took a long time to accept who I am. I come from a traditional family.”
The liberal, accepting metropolis of Tel Aviv, he said, offers a comfort zone for Israel’s LGBTQ community, but that kind of environment isn’t available to everyone, and he wants to continually comment on that to his audience.
“When I wore a skirt as a kid, I did not have any kind of platform that accepted me,” said Liani.
He also finds that social media is a more accepting space than galleries and museums, “which aren’t there yet,” he said. “Whoever gives money to art isn’t into queer and gender.”
As for Liani, he likes to situate his work in the gray zone, leaving room for viewers to ponder and take what they want from what they’re seeing.
“I just bring a proposal — with my point of view,” said Liani, who worked as a commercial photographer prior to the pandemic, including for fashion brands.
The series has made waves, appearing in Vogue Italy last year and in several Israeli newspapers.
Liani’s next stop? Hopefully a book about “LGBTQ+ LOVE,” he says.