Lindsay’s Team Pick: Photographer Alix Smith’s “States of Union”

Alix Smith is a totally amazing lesbian photographer from New York who is currently trying to finish a rad and important project that is relevant to our interests. “States of Union” is a series of color portrait photographs depicting same-sex families throughout the United States. In order to complete the project, Alix is trying to take more photographs in states not typically perceived as being ‘gay-friendly,’ including New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma,  Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Georgia, Virginia, Wyoming, Washington and pretty much all of them.

“I think having geographical diversity in my project is important not only to give these couples a voice, but also show viewers that the gay community comes in all shapes and sizes and exists in every community and is not exclusively on the east and west coasts,” Alix wrote in an e-mail to us. “Politicians will always vote with their constituents opinions, because they don’t want to loose their jobs – so I think real change comes from starting at the bottom and changing the constituents viewpoint. The more the world is permeated with images of loving and committed same-sex couples and families, the harder it will be for same-sex relationships to be considered ‘other.'”

Not only is the project ambitious and vital, but it’s well-executed. The photos are gorgeous and even the posed, portrait-style ones feel intimate. Alix has even found a famous fan in Sir Elton-freakin’-John, who has bought some of the States of Union photographs for his private collection.

But this isn’t about the rich and famous, natch; this is about telling the everyday stories of everyday queer families trying to do that which queer families do. And, if more people see these photos and these stories, perhaps, as Alix writes, people who see the photographs will recognize that family is family and same-sex families will have a better shot at the ‘American Dream.’

Alix has four days to raise about $25,000 to finish the project. We can help! Even if you’re skint, please help spread the word about her Kickstarter campaign and be a hero!

And check out more amazing photos from States of Union at Alix’s website.

Lindsay Eanet (@lindsayeanet) is a Chicago-based writer, editor and performer. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Paste, Howler, Chicago Magazine and others. She is the host & producer of I’ll Be There for You, a biweekly podcast about pop culture and coping. But enough about her, let’s talk about you.

Lindsay has written 27 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. Having gone to the website and checked these out, i’m not that keen. These people (almost all white) come across as modern aristocrats, having their portrait taken in a nineteenth century painterly style in their freakishly neat expensive homes (there is more than one featuring fancy china!), with the children looking like props (with a couple of lovely, more relaxed exceptions); what good does it do to reinforce the misperception that gays are affluent, when so many people in this country are suffering financially?

    • I agree with you (and hwaan) that there’s been a pretty homogeneous makeup of the photos so far (at least the ones on the website) and yeah, it is a problem with how same-sex families are portrayed. However, from what I gathered in her email and in the artists’ statement on Kickstarter, the photographer wants to get into the middle of the country and less typically LGBTQ-friendly areas, so hopefully that means also away from the typical portrayals and towards a more natural, accurate and diverse depiction of same-sex families. It’s a work in progress, so I’m hoping that as the project moves along, it will be a more complete picture.

      • let me add to my previous comment-now i’m feeling bad for alix smith, who is really talented!-that its great, as you said, lindsay, that she wants to make it more diverse; if you had a clearly low-income family presented in this formal style, that might be quite interesting. and maybe she felt like impromptu-style images are cliched in their own way at this point.

    • I see what you mean here–there’s something really nineteenth-century about these, oddly. And in a bad way. These do seem to be more of a power statement than something relatable and human and warm.

      And thank you for the commentary–this is exactly what’s wrong here, and I wouldn’t have seen it if you hadn’t put it into words.

  2. I saw the blurb for this and LOVED the idea. I think it is a phenomenal concept, but no matter how hard I try I cannot get on board with the execution. I went through all the pictures a few times and couldn’t connect to them. Where is the emotion? These portraits feel forced and make the subjects seem removed (and stock picture-y?), at least in my opinion.
    According to her bio this is part of her photo style, which is cool, I just don’t get what she is trying to communicate with it. It makes me kind of uncomfortable.
    Would love to hear more from the artist regarding this body of work! (And either way, yay for visibility?)

  3. I agree with the other comments. I looked at the rest of the photos and they seem waaaaaay too contrived to me. And has anybody noticed that almost no one is smiling? The pictures are aesthetically interesting, but they also feel quite cold and aloof. I think it would be a much stronger (and more positive) message to show smiling, happy, and diverse families. Also it would help to put them in more natural settings/poses so the general public would be able to relate to them more.

    • I agree 100%!! Although the execution is interesting and may be loved by some, I do not think it is connected to the idea that is trying to be portrayed at all. After reading the blurb I was expecting fun candid shots, you know, to show we are normal everyday people! This is more like we are fake and distant. :(
      Basically, I love the idea, but do not like the pictures!

  4. its an interesting concept and the photos are very well developed but they also seem forced and unnatural. everything from the props to their facial expression were controlled for which is a little bit off putting. for it to be a project on everyday life it seems to be more about fantasy everyday life. i dont know anyone whos young children are that neat, clean, and wrinkle free everyday. eh there’s room for improvement. id like to see the finish product.

  5. I saw that first photo and thought, ‘is this a statement about how business men are killing the souls of small girls??’ Her eyes are so bored and dead like. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen little kids on their birthdays, but…
    What these pictures lack is LOVE.

  6. I think these photos look like they were taken out of a j. crew catalog. Maybe that’s what the photographer was going for? Yes, it lacks warmth and feels very artificial; that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think she was going for a realistic representation of everyday life instead maybe she was trying to create archetypal images which have a queer twist? Not everyone’s cup of tea but seems like an interesting concept and get a point across effectively I guess. Only criticism I can see is it should have more diversity.

  7. I have to agree with most everyone else’s comments. These are austere and offputting to say the least. There is nothing heartwarming about a 5 yr. old girl ‘celebrating’ her birthday with two men in suits, at a table adorned with starched lace and not another child in sight. Gives me the impression she’s just a prop for them – not at all endearing me to their loving family dynamic. I imagine if I was somehow predisposed to object to their family dynamic, this depiction could best be used to bolster my argument. These photos leave me feeling that the people in them are unhappy – like despite the fact that they haven’t worked through that argument from last night and still aren’t speaking to one another, they’d agreed to this photo shoot thing weeks ago, “so fine, here!! I’ll sit through this damn photo shoot thing. Are you happy now?! Aren’t we the model of a loving freaking family!”

  8. Okay, I got two ways of looking at this: the first is, what’s more subversive than taking really iconic AMERICAN-IN-ALL-CAPS images à la Copley and Rockwell (the second image in this post closely parallels one of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms pictures), and making them gay?

    The second is, wait, is this really supposed to represent me? The artist says “the gay community comes in all shapes and sizes”, but I’m not seeing that here. I’m seeing mostly white, upper-middle-class, cisgender, able-bodied people. That’s a very narrow definition of both “gay” and “community”. And hell, I’m never gonna be able to afford the places these folks live in, I’m lucky if I’ll have health care. Does that mean I won’t fit in this version of the United States?

  9. I wonder what happened to the comment I sent? It’s not been posted.

    After I tried to post, I read the rest of the comments here, and realized there seems to be a general consensus that this project emphatically does not represent our community and lacks warmth.

    Someone mentioned a Norman Rockwell theme. Perhaps. But Rockwell’s pics did represent working class family life, which is seriously missing in the Alix Smith photos on her site.

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