Grace Coudal's BFA Thesis Project, To Be Held By You, debuts her photography series that explores how queer, feminine intimacy has been navigated throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. In her photography series, Coudal seeks to showcase a glimpse of authentic queered intimacies that are experienced by folx of all genders through the use of 35mm film.

To Be Held By You offers an exploration of the physical intimacy - or lack thereof - during a time when medical and governmental restrictions limit the touch and connection we are permitted to have with others. Government sanctioned social distancing does not diminish the innate craving for human affection and physical connection that humans have. This series seeks to highlight queer femmes that are navigating intimacy in new ways in their homes. This series of large-scale, vertical, and horizontal images portrays a mix of candid and portrait photographs that work to highlight a range of experiences in the absence of in-person, queer spaces, and communities. The photos are informed by the conversations Coudal had with her subjects about experiencing pleasure and loneliness in long-distance relationships, with new partners, and with themselves.

Central to this project is Coudal’s research on Queer Theory, Transgender Studies, and Sexuality Studies that she has studied as a student receiving her minor in LGBTQ+ & Sexuality Studies at the University of Michigan. By framing queer intimacy in her art, Coudal offers a celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals, bodies, and experiences. Her use of 35mm film photography is central to document raw moments that serve as a physical archive of time.


As I entered the homes of my friends and of strangers, I worried that our interactions would feel stiff and artificial as my face was covered with a mask due to the pandemic. The participants could not see my supportive, expressive facial expressions, and they could not always hear my affirmations through my mask as I told them how perfect and genuine they looked. Somehow though, even with my mask on and my body far from those I was working with to respect social distancing, our dance between subject and photographer, flowed effortlessly.

This project to my surprise, functioned as a tool in rediscovering a small, intimate, in-person queer community that many of us have lost in the pandemic. In the few hours that I spent with the individuals I photographed, it felt like we were less isolated from those similar to us. As they shared stories of their lives during this pandemic with me, it felt as if I became, in that moment, just another part of their environment witnessing their beautiful and authentic expressions. Although I began this journey with my eyes on the future, I discovered through intimate conversation and photographing physical vulnerability, that I feel most captivated in my work when I am making authentic art about other people’s present lives. Intimacy, as I understand it, is our ability to be honest and vulnerable with those around us. To Be Held By You showcases the existence of shared intimacy even during a time when connecting with others can sometimes feel impossible.


Isaac Coenca
Naomi Ning
Natalie Rieger
Paige Wilson
Genesis Gonzales
Kendra Eaton
Penny Lam

Roland Graf
Stephanie Tharp
Razi Jafri 
Phoebe Danaher
Jay Campbell
Ellie Levy
Carol Jacobsen
Mary Rafferty

This project was made possible with the support of the Undergraduate Research Grant from the Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.