LGBTQ folks have long found and created community in shared spaces: theaters, bars, and, of course, beaches. Asbury, Rehoboth, Fire Island, Provincetown: on the Eastern Seaboard, there are a number of meccas that invite and host queer clientele summer after summer. And while such hotspots may conjure images of speedos and tastes of vodka sodas, Kris Mendoza is exploring something both barer and fresher in “Communion.”

Mendoza’s first solo show, now at Brick Aux in Williamsburg through May 25, captures, in dynamic black and white photographs, queer friends, often naked, on various beaches in tableaus that, even when striking, have an air of giddy playfulness. Here, the photographer discusses this show, its lineage, and the irresistibility of snapping pictures of friends on a beach.

The opening for Communion, photo by Peter Redmond

Greenpointers: Hi! Let’s talk about the origin of these photos. Did you think you would shoot them all as part of a series, or is their history more scattered?

Kris Mendoza: Last summer, I took a course at the ICP, “Crafting the Queer Erotic Image,” and the intention was to create images around a concept or thesis, which admittedly I had less experience doing. I originally wanted to do something along the lines of, friends/lovers in different natural settings, but after my first shoot at a beach, I defaulted to setting the images there given how much easier it is to access here in New York than say, a forest, or waterfall. After I finished the course, I kept making images at the beach, but also explored studio and indoor environments once summer ended.

You shot in a few locations for this. Can you discuss where shoots were, and if you were able to shoot at a time when others weren’t on the beaches?

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KM: Most of the images took place at Fort Tilden on a part of the beach that’s usually sparsely populated. However, a few were created during a spontaneous day-trip to Fire Island, as well as at Gunnison Beach in Sandy Hook. In some cases, we woke up before dawn to catch the soft light just after sunrise—crucially, between 7-8AM — or we’d go to the beach later in the day to wait for the soft light before sunset. I think I preferred going in the mornings because there were never any people around. Though, if that wasn’t possible, we got creative in making the space feel secluded, including politely waiting for people to walk out of the frame.

The photos are playful, in a pure way: you have captured friends on a beach. Nonetheless, there is also a stylized quality to them. To what degree were any of these tableaus staged, and to what degree did your friends just get to, well, play?

I mean, they’re all technically staged, but there wasn’t a lot of premeditation in what the composition would be. The most difficult thing about shooting in natural environments is that you don’t have any control, even if you’ve planned everything out perfectly, so it demands that you’re open and adaptable to whatever comes your way. Sometimes, I’d have ideas on style or feeling, but the images largely came from playing with what we had around us. Also, whenever I’m in the photo, I’m usually pressing the shutter on a ten-second timer and running between the camera and the scene, often guessing my own position relative to the frame.

The PaJaMa lineage you discuss comes through. Do you remember first encountering those works, and whether you knew it was something that echoed your own distinct artistic calling?

KM: I first encountered PaJaMa on the first day of “Crafting the Queer Erotic Image.” Their images immediately caught my attention, and the longer I sat with it, the more I found myself continually revisiting them because of their highly compositional nature. I’m drawn to formalism in art — probably because I went to school for design and have worked professionally as a designer for over a decade. So, it’s not surprising those influences also emerge in my own work as an artist. However, art and design are in most ways, opposites: you can’t be too esoteric or interpretive in design, and the personal element is almost entirely removed. For this work, it was about exploring formalism without much sanctity; maintaining some intentionality, yet leaving room for a wide range of interpretations.

Guests at the opening for Communion, photo by Peter Redmond

Communion represents your first solo exhibition. How are you feeling about this opportunity, and how did Brick Aux come to be its host?

KM: I’m very grateful for this moment — I’ve wanted to do a gallery exhibition for years and something about doing it this year and during this time felt right. Originally, I was connected to Theresa Buchheister and the Aux through my friend Justin Reyes, who cofounder Queer Art Fest. After several discussions, I decided that hosting my first solo exhibition at Brick Aux made a ton of sense given their history of supporting queer emerging artists such as myself.

Anything else you want to add?

KM: I’d like to extend a ton of gratitude to my co-producer Peter Redmond — without him, none of this would have been possible. Just between the two of us working on this independently while having 9-5 jobs (and me quitting mine recently), these last few months have been a blur of emails, calls and running to all corners of the city. But I’m happy with everything we’ve accomplished so far and relieved it’s all finally out there.

Guests at the opening for Communion, photo by Peter Redmond

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