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BSc (Hons) Digital Journalism

Francesca Tirpak

Francesca Tirpak

Francesca Tirpak / Digital Journalism

Francesca has just completed her degree in BA (Hons) Digital Journalism.

Signs of Tenderness is a photobook dedicated to chosen family and platonic love, especially within a circle of queer people. After a study was conducted with over one hundred contributors, strangers and peers alike, in an attempt to define the particularities of chosen family within this community, I moved on to translate this data into a creative project meant to show the importance of these relationships in real-life context. 

My original plan was to seek out multiple chosen families, which I knew were interconnected by one or more members, creating a web of relationships spanning across the UK and the continental USA. I wanted to catch small moments of tenderness and love between the members of these extended families, seeking out particularities in these relationships that made them unique and special within themselves. In my experience, I have always perceived those platonic relationships created by queer people to be deeper and more intimate than those created with a heteronormative lens. Obviously, these relationships still vary greatly even outside of that sphere of influence, but I truly believe that we as a community have collectively agreed to transcend some kind of expectation for a line to be drawn between romantic and platonic love and intimacy. I wanted to prove this idea by showing the greater world, perhaps unaware of this notion, a different version of these relationships. 

However, thanks to the rising severity of the COVID-19 pandemic during the months that I was meant to depart on my many trips to do this, I was unable to meet with more than one family. Faced with a body of work that would not reach the level of depth that I hoped it would, I turned to the large archive of photographs taken in circumstances unrelated to this project from years past. The ones used in the final version of this project stretch back to late 2016. 

Thanks to this, it can be argued that this project has been in the works for years. Living without a name or purpose for so many years, I collected images of my loved ones in a variety of situations, both candid and posed. The body of work stemmed in a major way from a desire to document these fleeting moments, and an attempt to romanticize pieces of a teenager’s life that seemed so steeped in darkness and hopelessness, however angsty and childish that might sound. Photography is about capturing light, and these freeze frames did these both literally and metaphorically. 

I greatly regret not being able to expand this body of work further, especially into even more marginalised groups within this community and past my own circle of friends and chosen family. This is why I don’t consider Signs of Tenderness to be a finished product. This is something I feel passionately enough about to continue past the final deadline set by the university, and hope I can pursue a body of work that I am satisfied with. Regardless, completing what I have here, combined with the experiences and skills I have garnered from my time at Leeds Beckett University, is truly a testament to what I can achieve creatively and technically. I have grown so much since the first day of my first year, thrown into the deep end in a new country studying a new subject that I had only scratched the surface of, and I am glad I was able to experience all the ups and downs along the way. 

I think the outro to my book can explain these feelings better than I can rewrite it, so I’ll leave you with that. 

“For a long time, I thought my strength lay in an ability for adventure, risk-taking, charting into new and unknown lands – I travelled away from home often, for long periods of time, and usually alone, before graduating high school. University was an experiment into just how far away I could get from the city where I grew up, and many credited me with being brave for going to an entirely new country to do just that. Since then, I’ve realized that I didn’t need bravery so much as a solid support network to achieve this. 

All of our languages of love translate differently, but I can now recognize my own as a need for a sense of comfort, or familiarity, or home, in strange and new places. We create homes of our own where we seek comfort from things familiar. No matter the distance, physical or otherwise, we always find each other. Albert Camus said ‘never stop waiting for signs of tenderness’, and I never have.”