‘CripFag’ is a swelling new age sex education, enlightened by his experiences as a quadriplegic and an online plethora of physical beauty, Robert Coombs illuminates a forgotten craving for intimacy.
How did you find photography?
I was always a creative kid. I got my first camera when I was in middle school and started photographing landscapes in my backyard. In high school, I was always shooting my friends at parties. Once I got to college, I began to find my stride with large-format 4 x 5.
It seems clear that your work still has strong links to your initial documentation of the LGBTQI community and familiar bodies, but do you think your past gymnastics career (as a separate entity from where that path led you) has any significant influence on your work today?
I've always been interested in photographing my body along with others. After coming out [of] my second year of college, it just came naturally to photograph my friends and our bodies. I think my whole athletic career has influenced my work, I've always had a very slender, toned, athletic body… So, when my accident happened, it was somewhat freeing, I didn't have to meet any able-bodied expectations when it came to how my body looked. I used to be so concerned about what my body looked like and how I could improve or change it, but now being a quadriplegic I don't have any options to change it, so I just completely fell in love with how I looked.
What does CripFags represent for you?
CripFag represents every disabled person out there who craves intimacy and sex!
I have read that when you were adjusting to life as a quadriplegic, no one really spoke to you about adjusting to sexual relationships in these new conditions. Did this feed into why you started working on CripFags?
Not having any idea of how I was able to use my body sexually, has influenced my artwork today. I had to scour the Internet, looking at forums, searching "disabled men" or "wheelchair guys" on porn websites. That's pretty much how I learned [about] what my body was capable of, along with a lot of experimentation with a lot of different guys. After a few years of experimentation, I was at a point where I knew how my body worked sexually and came up with creative positions to have sex in my bed or my wheelchair. CripFag is an exploration of my sexual adventures; it shows the ins and outs of what it's like to have sex with me and others like me. I had been thinking about making this work for quite some time, but I had to start making it before I applied to grad school.
How did CripFag conceptually evolutionise into its final self?
CripFag is an ongoing body of work that I'm still exploring. It started when I got back into the dating scene, in the new age of online dating apps. I learned very quickly that people don't view disabled people as sexual beings or that we wouldn't be worth having sex with because the "able-bodied person" would have to "do everything." I am also inspired by the world of "Instagays," seeing a plethora of beautiful men on Instagram showing off their bodies and fabulous lifestyles. So conceptually I get a lot of inspiration from that culture and incorporate my disability into it.
Apart from your own experiences, were there any other significant stimulatory figures or factors for this body of work?
The body of work is collaborative with the people who are in the images with me. Sex is a collaborative act, so we both talk about what we like sexually then I come up with a few ideas on how we can depict that… this keeps the project interesting, I'm always up for trying new things which are creatively stimulating.
Across the series there is a variation between mundane style settings and a more composed and styled set. Why inspired this artistic decision this?
I want to cross all bases when it comes to themes. I want to show everything from the mundane to the extreme! That's just life itself; some days are fabulous, some days are boring.
Using yourself as a model, these images are the most (at least directly) intimate and personal yet. Did you have to employ any strategies or ceremonies to prepare yourself to shoot?
As I said before, I love my body, and I've always used it in my artwork. I am a very outgoing person, I don't mind being the center of attention, so I don't have any rituals besides my personal hygienic and beauty rituals. I can also push my boundaries where if I was using someone else, it might be more exploitative. I also want to see my body; disabled people don't have the option of inspecting their bodies in front of the mirror like our able-bodied counterparts. I think it's also important that I inspire others to love their bodies in hopes that they will someday let me photograph them in their sexual adventures!
How do you feel the limitations Instagram poses in presenting your work in all its authenticity?
Instagram is a frustrating platform; if you have a lot of followers and you're a porn star, you can pretty much show whatever you'd like, especially if you're able-bodied. Don't get me wrong; I love following these people because I visually like it and it inspires me to create my work. However, I have a hard time keeping my artwork up because people think it's "disgusting" pretty much saying that my disabled body is disgusting.
What are your hopes for the impact of CripFag?
My hopes for this body of work is to explore it throughout my life, showing how the disabled body changes, showing my varying relationships with other people, and how we evolve as a culture. I see books of my images in the future, different editions as I continue along with museum and gallery showings!
Finally, I would like to add a call to action; I am looking for models that identify as male or gender fluid, disabled and able-bodied, to participate in my work!
courtesy ROBERT COOMBS
interview KATE BISHOP
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