A love letter to the community of drag performers, sex workers and clubbers finding a home in LGBT+ nightlife in New York City, Until Night Comes, is a new book by photographer Max Mauro that features intimate portraits, offering a glimpse at how the queer community stayed connected during the pandemic.
"As queer people, we get to choose who we call family," Max writes in the title's introduction. "This is something I've always heard ever since I came out of the closet at 16 years old. It wasn't until a few years later, when I became a queer creative in a small, public undergraduate art school, that I began to live that and feel it. Drag queens often call their close drag friends' sisters', and suddenly I learned that I had dozens of siblings. Soon, I was forging a family of sisters, brothers, aunts, and mothers. None of us shared blood, but the relationships that we cultivated were just as intimate, if not much more so. And safe spaces for queer people play such an integral role in strengthening that bond, that community."
But when Covid-19 hit in March 2020, Max and his friends lost access to those spaces: the bars and restaurants, the clubs and venues, they all disappeared overnight, leaving the community feeling lonely and isolated. Max happened to be living in Astoria, Queens, during that time – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak back then. As such, he felt his mental health beginning to deteriorate. After weeks of endless video games and television binges, Max decided he had to do something to reconnect with his friends.
It sparked the idea for the series, Until Night Comes, documenting how he and the queer community of New York have adapted and evolved during the pandemic. He began to safely travel and visit the homes of his friends and family to photograph them in their own spaces. "I wanted to capture their power, as well as their vulnerabilities," he adds. "I told them to present themselves to my camera however they wanted to, giving minimal direction on how they or their space should be presented."
As a result, the photographs are real as well as intimate. "They represent so much of what I have come to admire about my community," Max says. "Even in the most formal of portraits, there is a sense of genuine connection that is raw and unapologetic."
One aspect of the project that was especially important to Max was getting across to the viewer that he "wasn't just photographing these people as another onlooker or an 'other'," but that he was a part of these people's lives and vice versa. "We share the same struggles, the same feelings, and the same desires. Even when I began to photograph people I had never met before, we understood how connected we were in this shared experience.
"Oftentimes, I was the first person they'd shared a personal conversation in months that wasn't through a phone or a screen, and I realised how powerful that was. We would talk about our fears, new hobbies, desires for human touch, and how much we missed the feeling of shared laughter among friends. With these pictures, I strived to present those emotions tangibly. Even if you, the viewer, know none of the people in this book, I hope you can recognise the emotions and stories through the small gestures, the eye contact, and the familiar objects in the rooms."
Although the series was inspired during the pandemic, Max insists it's not a story about Covid-19. Instead, it's about the power of family and connection. "Even in times of isolation, the people in this book are imbued with the confidence and love that emboldens our community," he adds. "Whether they are performing for my camera, or letting us in a little deeper, there is a truth in the humanity of their queer experience, and it is beautiful."
In Until Night Comes, we are invited into Max's own intimate world of friends and community. Away from the bright lights, stage and streets, we gain a wider understanding of what it means to create your own family in New York City. "I am grateful to know each and every one of the people I've photographed. And whether they are staring at the off-white walls of their New York City apartments dreaming of all the places they want to travel to, or performing on a stage for a socially distanced audience to be a form of escapism for others, I hope you feel the love and the pain that we all shared. Even when we were isolated, we were never truly alone."
Until Night Comes is published by Tired Eyes Publishing, a publisher based in Hollywood, California, founded by Kevin Klipfel in 2019 to "take a stand against corporate culture by championing the autonomy of art and bringing to life artists' aesthetic sensibilities in their most authentic form of expression". You can grab a copy now.