Alexander Coggin on creating his own queer archive

Known for his characterful, intensely lit photographs, Alexander Coggin talks to us about how branching out into filmmaking prompted him to reevaluate his longest-running body of work: a 15-year collection of images of his partner, where very little is off limits

The first thing you should know about Mike, Alexander Coggin’s body of work based around his partner, is that it’s a misnomer. “My spouse’s name is actually Michael,” the London-based photographer explains. Mike, it turns out, is a nickname that Michael hates. Nonetheless, it’s the title Coggin has given to the substantial collection of photographs taken over the past 15 years of their relationship, spanning multiple continents, degrees, jobs, and a pandemic. It’s a significant body of work that was hiding in plain sight.

He and Michael met on the theatre programme at university in Boston, where Coggin learnt the ropes of how to write, direct, and star in theatre. By the time they were living in Chicago, Coggin working in a call centre, he began to miss his theatre practice. “That creativity was just so contingent upon other actors and a director and a production and all of that. It actually takes such a village to make a piece of theatre. It’s not something you can do as a solo practice. It’s quite a relational form.”

So when Michael bought him a camera for Christmas, it struck a chord. “With theatre-making, you put a show together in a room, the show runs from eight to ten, and then it’s over. It disappears, and it’s in the ether forever, and it only exists in the memories of the people that were in the room when it happened. And photography is the exact opposite. Photography is like a moment in time that’s less than a second that’s put in between four corners of a frame and immortalised forever.”