Earlier this month, Dazed Digital published a feature about the recently-exhibited “At Home With Themselves,” a photography project by Sage Sohier which featured same-sex couples at home in the 1980s. It’s an extraordinary collection, and a revolutionary one, too — it was rare to find imagery representing the ordinary domestic lives of LGBT people. It’s unfortunate that mainstream America mostly only saw us at Pride Marches, considering the rich legacy of lesbian photographers we have going back to the ’60s and ’70s, women like Joan E. Biren, Cathy Cade, Tee Corinne, Robert Girard, Laura Aguilar, Catherine Opie, Mumaz Karimjess, Chloe Atkins, Deborah Bright, Fiona Arnold, Jill Posener, Zone Paraiso Montoya and Hanh Thi Pham and Laura Aguilar. That tradition continues today with a new generation of queer women like Cass Bird and Sophia Wallace capturing our lives.
Today, we’re looking at projects from the last few years that specifically sought out and photographed ordinary LGBTQ people that fell within a certain demographic group. It’s truly, truly wonderful stuff.
1. io Tillett Wright’s Self-Evident Truths
Wright’s project — photographing people who identify as anything besides 100% straight, since 2010 — has already captured over 9,000 queer faces, including a lot of famous ones, too.
2. Molly Landreth’s Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America
This project is wide-reaching and spectacular, and it was basically impossible to select just one image to include here — you should go see the whole damn thing. Embodiment aims to document and archive “the lives of people who offer brave new visions of what it means to be queer in America today,” in “churches, parks, high school classrooms, back yards and bedrooms,” in rural and urban areas, Embodiment portrays a radical diversity of family styles and gender expressions. We interviewed Molly Landreth and Amelia Tovey back in 2010 as they were raising money for the website’s kickstarter campaign.
3. Joan Lobis Brown’s New Alternatives
Many LGBTQ youth, abandoned or rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, flock to cities like New York in search of community and often end up seeking assistance from organizations like New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth. Lobis Brown spent several months volunteering at a church sanctuary run by New Alternatives before asking if she could take studio portraits of the kids, “many of whom have been abused, neglected, or forced out of their homes by their families of origin.” She remains a volunteer at the shelter, and hopes that her photographs “will break through the keen isolation felt by members of this community to reveal the common threads of fear, hope, and love that unite us all.”
4. Zanele Muholi’s Faces & Phases
Renowned South African photographer Zanele Muholi has been documenting the queer South African community through art for years. “Faces and Phases” is part of her ongoing mission to ensure queer black visibility with subjects shot in locations including Gauteng, Cape Town, Mafikeng, Botswana and Sweden. “Faces expresses the person, and Phases signify the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another,” writes Muholi in her artist’s statement. “Faces is also about the face-to-face confrontation between myself as the photographer/activist and the many lesbians, women and trans men I have interacted with from different places.”
5. Laurel Golio’s We Are The Youth
This ongoing photographic journalism project seeks to record and make visible the stories of LGBTQ youth in the United States. Laurel takes the photographs and Diana Scholl records the stories to capture “the incredible diversity and uniqueness among the LGBTQ youth population.”
6. Maika Elan’s “The Pink Choice“
For two years, Elan photographed LGBT couples in Vietnam, aiming to build empathy and interest between a straight audience and LGBT people by showing them in their typical lives and homes, doing casual and often mundane daily activities. She called it “Pink Choice” after the name of a popular travel site for gays and lesbians. You can view photographs from the series that are hard to find on her website in this New York Times article about the project.
7. Gabriela Herman’s The Kids
Herman’s Mom (like mine) came out while she was in high school, and married her partner in Massachusetts immediately after it became legal. Herman recalls it being difficult to have a gay parent during a time when homosexuality really wasn’t discussed or accepted in the same way it is now. While this project doesn’t document LGBTQ people specifically, it does document children of LGBTQ people, adding another dimension to representation.
8. Jeff Sheng’s Fearless: Portraits of LGBT Athletes
This summer Sheng published a book of his project, which began in 2003. That’s when he started taking pictures of out LGBT high school and college athletes as a way of exploring his own identity as a former closeted high school athlete. Over 200 athletes have since posed for the project, which has been exhibited all over the world including at The Olympics, Nike Headquarters and ESPN.
9. Sarah Deragon’s The Identity Project
Deragon, a San Francisco portrait photographer, launched The Identity Project in 2014 to “explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality. ” She started with 50 portraits in the Bay Area and got slammed with requests, eventually launching an Indiegogo campaign to photograph people all over the country. Like Autostraddle Contributing Editor Laura Mandanas, for example:
10. Alix Smith’s States of Union
Alix Smith spent six years photographing families with same-sex couples in a style strongly influenced by historical portraits that were used in the past to memorialize important families and honor family patriarchs and matriarchs. Straight people had this profound illustrated legacy that simply doesn’t exist for us, and so she set out to make it in a contemporary context.
11. Rachelle Lee Smith’s Speaking Out: Queer Youth In Focus
Smith wanted to “provide a rare insight into the ever-evoling passions, confusions, prejudices, fulfillment, joys and sorrows of queer youth,” capturing a diverse group of 14-to-24-year-olds who identified as LGBTQ — not just their images, but their stories, too, in their own words. A book of the project was published in 2014.
12. Leslie Kee’s “Out In Japan“
This project took over five years and a huge group of photographers to capture over 10,000 people in an attempt to “capture the true face of Japan’s LGBT community” and “highlight the presence of LGBT people in daily life — a community that is not especially high-profile in Japan.”
Next: The Femme Project, “Las Otras,”GAYFACE” and more
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Sadly Robin Hammond is a man & uses he / him pronouns, from his website: http://www.robinhammond.co.uk/info/
Fixed, thanks! (But why sadly?)
Sadly because there’s not a lot of photojournalists who are women or nonbinary people and it makes me uncomfortable when men gain widespread recognition for being paid to travel the world taking pictures of women and nonbinary people who remain largely anonymous. That recognition is often based on the idea that men are objective and rational and show us the truth about the world in ways in which women and nonbinary people cannot.
this is a really good point
fixed! I think I just assumed “robin” was a girl because I usually have only known female robins! but yeah it’s also a boy’s name. like robin hood! thanks for pointing it out!
so happy to see jj levine included here!
also can’t wait to take a look at all these great projects.
I love these kinds of projects!! So happy to see Meg Allen’s “Butch” in this! And the Womyn’s Land series- yes, women’s land is problematic, but for me personally, spending time on queer land affiliated with the southern Oregon women’s land network was deeply healing and transformative. We have to honor our history and also use it as a springboard to learn from and grow. Great compilation!
I referenced Meg Allen’s Butch so much in my MA work because wow. Someday I hope to be a part of a list like this…someday. But I’m all about the long exposure visibility thing. Best get back to writing those proposals.
Oh good, now I know what I am going to do allllll weekend.
What beautiful portraits! We are just starting out in Thailand with our Queers of Bangkok photo Project to celebrate the diversity of queer in and around the places the people love to be themselves in Bangkok. Take a look on Queermango.com.
All these are AMAZING! I would like to add another to the list for anyone that is interested.
Veme: Queering Phoenix:
It is put together by a friend. It is a “photographic project that seeks to create positive representation of young LGBTQ people of color in Phoenix.”
Hope yall enjoy!
Thank you so much for putting all these fantastic projects together!
Great to see some projects here I didn’t know about. Also wondering how you totally missed Handsome Revolution Project also a project from the Bay Area, i love the vision behind the project and think it’s important and well deserving of this or any list.
welp, i love it. i spent a few weeks combing the web for projects to include, i’m surprised i didn’t find this on either, i wish i had!
Great list! I used a lot of these as research material when writing my dissertation and found them hugely inspiring – I did a final project on queer identities for my Photography degree from university. Particularly Katie Koti and Molly Landreth were big influences.
Shameless self plug here, but here is my queer photographt portrait project based in Scotland. It anybody wants to check it out you can find it on my website: http://tiumakkonen.com ! :)
In addition to taking straight forward portraits, I wanted to add an element of collaboration to the photo shoots, so I attached a long cable release to the camera so the participants themselves where actually the ones pressing the shutter. I also included hand written notes from each person :) I’m really hoping to continue this series!
Oh your project is great I love it!!
I love this list!
Another I found recently: Betsy Kershner’s The Pride and Joy Project, photographs queer mothers and their families!
Thanks for the shout out!! :)
These photo projects are very very important. I’m grateful for the hard work that artists put into representing the diversity of the community. Cheers!
Diversity? Not one person is over 30
um, that is squarely false and not remotely true?
Thank you for sharing this.
These are wonderful! I first learned about We Are The Youth a while back and love it. I hadn’t heard about the Identity Project before, but it looks really cool! Can’t wait to explore all of these galleries.
And States of Union! So heartwarming and beautiful!
You all should look into the Young Women’s Alliance in Nee Mexico. They have a great LGBTQIA photography project, as well as a gorgeous reproductive rights art project
Also adding Queer in Public to the list – street photography of queer couples showing affection in public, all over the world.
This collection is so inspiring! While I do more with costume design than photography, I’m an artist of all sorts and would love to collaborate with anyone around NYC and just make some queer and beautiful work. Seeing all of these stunning projects is really kicking me towards just putting things out there- thanks so much for putting this together!
I would add my recent work on the performers at the gay cabarets in Havana. These are transgender women, men beginning the transition process, and female impersonators. In the absence of any open, visible, safe lGTBTQ community in Cuba, the cabarets have functioned as community centers where health education is promoted and advocacy for greater civil rights is organized.
Add Wendi Kali the Butch/Femme Photo Project!
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This is a great article and I really loved enjoying reading it. I myself is a professional maternity photographer and look forward for doing a project on LGBT community.
My professional photography profile can be found here
I found the article to be well-written and engaging. As a professional maternity photographer, I was particularly interested in the topic and look forward to exploring it further in a potential project focused on the LGBT community.
My photography portfolio can be viewed at