Michael imagines the history of gay men living in rural western Massachusetts (US) in the era between the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 and the death of Rock Hudson by AIDS in 1985. Specifically, Kelley traces the experiences of his uncle, an artist whose adult life was bookended by these landmark events in LGBTQ history. Michael was found dead on June 14, 1985, shortly after the first test for HIV antibody was licensed. In this work, Kelley reenacts known events and memories, reconstructs shared histories, and speculates on experiences Michael might have had. The project incorporates and interprets ephemera—the things Michael left behind—and his own 8mm filmstrips. Using Michael’s possessions and artwork allows Kelley to materialize his uncle and let him speak for himself, grounding Kelley’s imagined images. Part documentary, this work seeks answers, but is preoccupied with the unknowable, with visualizing the hopes and fears that continue to resonate within Kelley’s family and community. LGBTQ histories are often forgotten, if not actively erased, and rural communities are frequently the last to redress them. Kelley’s work reclaims one of those stories, helping to frame an otherwise outcast history while working to support issues of acceptance and understanding more broadly in the present.
Forest Kelley is an Assistant Professor at the School of Art and Visual Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington (USA). He received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. His work reflects on introspective histories and systems/contexts that perpetuate social isolation. He has shown internationally at galleries including 1708 Gallery (Richmond, VA), Clamp Art (NYC), Filter Space (Chicago), Photo Is:Rael (Tel-Aviv), Rotterdam Photo (Rotterdam), and SF Camerawork (San Francisco). He was recognized with the 2020 Imagemaker Award by the Society for Photographic Education. In 2018, he contributed music to the Academy Award-nominated and Criterion Collection-selected documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening for which he received the award Best Music Score from the International Documentary Association.