Book Club #65: American Confusion by Lincoln Lin

Twenty-three-year-old Chinese photographer Lincoln Lin always looked at ‘America’ as a utopian space for realizing his dreams, having sex, and making art. For nine months, he photographed LA’s queer universe, capturing cruisers, crossdressers, sadomasochists, and other characters in their utmost intimacy.

His exploration came to an end earlier this year while he visited his family in Wuhan. In forced confinement due to Covid-19, Lin worked on his second photobook, American Confusion. Now, he’s struggling to publish it under China’s implacable censorship.

KALTBLUT: Your work has a sordid overlay, but it also shows tenderness. What are your influences?
Lincoln Lin: I was always a fan of French artists Pierre and Gilles, and American photographer Nan Goldin. Their works show confidence while shaping a particular scene and story. I also capture screenshots on Instagram of works by Harley Weir, Barbara Crane, Lucas Foglia, pictures of Marilyn Monroe, as well as real crime scenes and surgery pictures. I adore darkness and, because I use flashlights, everything comes out looking a little disgusting and dirty. Mainly, I portray the world as it is. It gets sordid at times. But it’s reality.

KALTBLUT: What attracted you to LA?
Lincoln Lin: The first time I went to LA, I met a lot of people in all kinds of queer parties and bars. I felt a strong connection with them as if we had the same nationality. I fell in love with America’s sense of freedom. I know it is not entirely true. Still, It was an escape from the controlled life I had in China. Then, I went back for an internship with a local artist I met on Instagram. But I left the job after one month to party full time and take photos.

KALTBLUT: Who are the people you met?
Lincoln Lin: It’s hard to answer, but they are people I’ve met at parties, Grinder, Tinder, or just on the street, in the middle of Las Vegas, or in the desert. Some of them were veterans, doctors, real estate agents, UCLA undergraduates; some were drug addicts. Their stories are in my book.

KALTBLUT: How do you think your work influences people’s perspectives on LGBTQ matters?
Lincoln Lin: I don’t think about the effect my work has on people. Maybe it’s like a peephole into the queer universe that helps to break stigmas because it also shows the human side. I like to think of it as a documentation of our culture: a hundred years from now, there might not be any dark rooms left, no need for PrEP, no “coming out of the closet” struggles. People should like to know how we lived and the problems we faced.

KALTBLUT: What is it like to work with such a sensitive topic in China?
Lincoln Lin: I deal with a lot of bullshit. I had two exhibitions in China, but they happened out of sight; one was in my dorm, and the other was in a friend’s apartment. I also had a photoshoot interrupted by the studio owner when he saw what I was doing. Now I’m trying to print the book, but local printers refuse to do it because it’s illegal content. I used to get frustrated. Now, not so much. The more resistance I have, the more meaningful it is for me to continue.

Interview by Tomás Pinheiro
Instagram: @tomaspinheiro__

Lincoln Li’s Instagram @lincolnlinfeb