Molly Steels: Not a Sin, Not a Sinner

Artist Statement

I look around and see a place familiar yet distant. A whip-lash between alienation and closeness. It holds one sense of community while completely lacking another. There is a duality within this experience that makes it not as simple as staying or leaving. 

Navigating can be done in a multitude of ways. The ultimate goal being a smooth transition with minimal snagging. Within my small town, I snagged. I grappled with my queerness through a sense of bending, flowing and resisting. An experience not uncommon for small town gays.  

Within the Catholic school, church and casual conversation; heteronormativity was everywhere. We were told to hate the sin, love the sinner. A contradictory statement that left no room for true self-acceptance. Surrounding me was a mix of kind and unkind people, like in any town, but there was also this palpable sense of difference. This is how I was sold ideals that felt less and less possible as I grew up. A catalyst for trying to do it right but inherently failing. It is where I learned that it’s both freeing and confining to inherently defy a mold placed upon you.


Question 2: Describe how you envision the end result of your project. If it is a work in progress please indicate your planned completion date.

I want these images to engage the space they are shown within and create an experience to navigate through, much like the concept behind this series. I hope to do this through a mixture of framed, float mount and hanging images. I would love for my images to resonate with people who have struggled with fitting into the place they call home. Especially when that struggle is rooted in identity and forces much bigger than themselves.

What inspired you to create this project? Include any relevant artists.

For a long time I have felt the urge to create something about the complicated feelings I have around my hometown and my identity. I felt so frustrated with the fact that I both loved and hated this place. When I moved to Toronto to attend TMU the physical and emotional distance made it possible for me to reflect in hindsight.

In third year I wrote an essay for my Sociology of Sex, Gender, and Sexualities class on “Metronormativity”. This is a term coined for the narrative of compulsory queer migration from countryside to city. ​​While this concept is limiting and inaccessible for many queer people, it is also understandable when you consider that rural culture is often associated with conservatism, traditional gender roles, heteronormativity and conformity. I had personally felt this way about the general culture within my town. I specifically feel that the Catholic church is an amplifier for all of these traits so this became part of the focus in my series.

In terms of photo references I felt inspired by Peyton Fulford’s Tenderness series as well as the work of Donna Gottshalk.

Describe any challenges you faced creating this project, and the solutions that helped you to overcome these problems.

This project was a roller coaster in so many ways. I knew what I wanted to talk about but with conceptual photography there’s this tricky balance of explaining yourself in a way that isn’t straightforward yet still somewhat comprehensible. I originally wanted to photograph other people as part of this series before realizing that this was more about my personal experiences speaking to a wider issue. That’s when I decided that this series was more suited to self portraits. I figured out my path through trial and error as well as extensive conversations with profs. I had to become comfortable with the fact that sometimes my work will be read how I intend it to be and sometimes it won’t, which is actually the interesting part about making conceptual art.

Another challenge was zeroing in on a visual language. Sometimes I get so excited at the beginning of a project that I do a ton of experimenting with visuals and then need to reel it in and get specific. In order to tie together some of the different approaches I was using, I had to create images that bridged together the series while still serving the concept. When you’re working with a subject that is so close to your heart it is hard to let go of control and allow for multiple interpretations and possible disagreements. I think that’s when you know you’re making good work though, when there’s room for critical thinking rather than being held by the hand and guided to the project’s meaning.

What are you most proud of about this project?

The process I went through to make this project was challenging but worth it. Originally I felt so lost and conflicted working through my feelings around this subject. After trying and failing a few different times I started to get a clearer idea of what I was creating.

It kind of felt like a puzzle that I was slowly putting together. Almost like there was a way this series was meant to be and I just had to get it to that point. So overall what I’m most proud of about this project is the energy I put into it and the resiliency I had while i slowly brought this series to where it needed to be.

Have you had any success getting your work out into the world? Do you have suggestions for other artists?

I’ve had some success here and there but I’m just getting started! This March my thesis will be part of a group show at Artspace curated by Hannah Somers which I’m really looking forward to.

I have submitted to other galleries in the past, while I don’t always get accepted. It’s a good way to get your name and work seen by curators and others on the panel. In the past I’ve also submitted my work to literary magazines as a way to get it shown to different audiences. There are many different publications out there to submit to, however I always try to go for the ones that have small to no fee for submitting.

My suggestion to other artists is to focus on making work that you love and then worry about finding it a home out there in the world. There will most certainly be times when you fail but there will also be times when you succeed. You just need to trust yourself and know that it’s all part of the journey. Never compare your work to others in a way that makes you feel down. Your art is special because you made it and no one else can do exactly what you do.

Molly Steels: She/Her

Molly Steels is a Toronto based image maker originally from Bradford, Ontario. She is currently pursuing her BFA in Image Arts and a minor in Sociology at Toronto Metropolitan University. Her practice often explores themes of vulnerability, identity and the human condition. She uses photography as a tool for self-expression, adventure and contemplating the world around her. 

Molly has been the Photo Editor of Hues Magazine since January of 2021, where she works to showcase the creative community at Toronto Met. She is currently the Web Coordinator for Maximum Exposure while also juggling creating a senior thesis


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