22 Stunning Queer Photography Projects Showcasing LGBT Community Diversity

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

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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

"Ducky and Her Friends, 2008" in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

“Ducky and Her Friends, 2008” in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

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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

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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

Phan Ngoc Hai Ly dries one of her cats after a bath while Pham Thao Huyen tries on new rollerblades

Phan Ngoc Hai Ly dries one of her cats after a bath while Pham Thao Huyen tries on new rollerblades

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

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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

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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

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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:

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10. Alix Smith’s States of Union

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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

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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

Natsumi Okata (right) and Asami Tsuchiya (left)

Natsumi Okata (right) and Asami Tsuchiya (left)

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

13. JJ Levine’s Queer Portraits

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Levine’s large-scale photography project captures his own community of friends, lovers and siblings in their own domestic spaces in Montreal, Canada, aiming to expose the intricacies of what we surround ourselves with in our homes as queers often alienated by public spaces. Of the project, Levine writes: “I am interested in expressing fierceness, beauty, and resistance through the confrontational gaze of my subjects and the aesthetic of a queer subculture, a goal that underlies the series and my work as a whole.”


14. Lupe Salinas’ Las Otras

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This series of portraits by Salinas, a New York based artist from Idaho, was her way of  “(re)imaging an often disregarded group through collaborative image and text, “Las Otras” offers insight to (re)think and (re)visualize the Queer Latin@ identity.


15. Barbara Proud’s First Comes Love

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For her “traveling exhibition of photographs that document the lives and relationships of couples in the LGBT community,” Barbara Proud has been photographing same-sex couples who have been together for over ten years since 2009. In addition to being exhibited in locations across the country, First Comes love is also a video and a book.


16. Ashley Kolodner’s GAYFACE

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Ashley photographed queers with their eyes closed and open — offering first vulnerability, and then looking you straight in the eyeballs. In her artist statement, Kolodner declared, “this collection of works is done to portray the innovative, personal, and participatory face of the gay movement and American culture at large and in the home.”


17. Angela Jiminez’s Womyn’s Land

There are certainly lots of controversies regarding the creation and execution of lesbian separatist’s communities over time, but these lands are a vital element of our history and Jimenez’s project, commissioned by The New York Times, is one of only a few focused on lesbian elders. There are over 100 “below-the-radar lesbian communities” in North America, and Jimenez visited many of them to record a style that many fear is near extinction.


18. Bernd Ott & Emily Besa’s All The People

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The pair behind this project traveled around the world talking to people about their gender expression and identity. Although the project is not explicitly LGBTQ, there are certainly myriad overlaps with the queer and trans community. Besa told Buzzfeed, “A lot of projects we found tend to focus on one aspect of being non-binary or non-conforming and we were particularly interested in relating the infinite possibilities of gender expression and identity.”


19. Jess T Dugan’s Every Breath We Drew

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Dugan wanted to look at her vision of masculine identity, what it means to be a man, and how fluid that identity is in different contexts. “These gender roles are failing everyone, not just trans people,” Dugan told Slate.com. “We need to unravel that and give everyone some breathing room.”


20. Toni Latour’s The Femme Project

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Latour documented and interviewed self-identified queer femmes in her Vancouver community, seeking to give visual representation to a group “in a world where invisibility is common.” “In bringing participants in to record their stories and capture their images, The Femme Project relays parts of their lives to wider audiences,” writes Toni, “both uniting the group and offering insights into their commonalities and differences.”


21. Robin Hammond’s Where Love Is Illegal

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Robin Hammond visited seven countries where persecution of LGBTI people is widespread, and connected with local activists who helped him find subjects who had been survivors of discrimination and abuse. He eventually expanded the project to include LGBTI people from all over the world who had experienced discrimination, recording their stories and images on instagram and raising money through his non-profit Witness Change, which aims to produce “highly visual storytelling on seldom-addressed human rights abuses.”


22. Meg Allen’s “Butch

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I’m gonna be honest and tell you that this series really butters my bread in so many ways. I could probably just look at this for the rest of my life and be totally content. She captures a diverse array of subjects inhabiting a variety of interpretations of a butch identity, including some familiar faces — and even a few couples!

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There’s a silver-haired firefighter, a bartender with a chihuahua tattoo, a cartoonist in Mutant Ninja Turtles pajamas, a weightlifter, a biker, a pregnant woman, the St. Harridan folks, a BDSM author, and so many ties, cute haircuts, wrinkles. “BUTCH is an adjective,” says Allen, who began the project just photographing her friends and then branched out into every corner of the butch universe. “And like all adjectives, it is fluid and subjective. Just as there are many types of hot women, there are many types of butches…”


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Riese

Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, is an award-winning writer, blogger, journalist, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in the midwest, lost her mind in New York City and is currently making it work in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better, The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image and The Hazards of Being Female," "Dirty Girls," and "The Best American Erotica of 2007," magazines including Nylon, Marie Claire, GO, Curve, Interlude, and CollegeBound, and all over the web including nerve.com, Jezebel, Queerty, Emily Books and OurChart (RIP). She was the recapper for The L Word Online and host of Showtime’s Lezberado and her personal blog has earned many dubious honors including Best Personal Blog 2008. Riese has spoken about blogging, community-building, feminism, cyberculture and sexuality at places like BlogHer, Yale, New York University, The University of Chicago and The Museum of Sex. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy and The Olive Garden's week-long training intensive; she enjoys eating foods, having big ideas, reading books & talking to her stuffed dog, Tinkerbell. Also, she's Jewish. Follow her smokin’ hot adventures on twitter. Contact: riese[at]autostraddle.com

Riese has written 2896 articles for us.

33 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

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