Photographer documents watershed period in gay history with The Gay Men Project
January 21, 2014
UPDATE 3/3: The Gay Men Project is going global! Visionary photographer Kevin Truong is fundraising now on Kickstarter, working on photographing more awesome gay men and couples in countries around the world. Check it out HERE.
For more than two years, New York City-based photographer Kevin Truong has been traveling the globe, curating what he calls "the visual catalog of gay men around the world" - The Gay Men Project.
"This project is simple," Kevin (pictured, right) writes on his blog. "Basically I’m trying to photograph as many gay men as I can. My goal is to create a platform, a visibility on some level, and a resource for others who may not be as openly gay."
As support for the freedom to marry across the United States - and, increasingly, internationally - has grown in the past few years, it's become clearer than ever that one of the best ways to encourage support is by sharing the stories and images of same-sex couples and their families. In the same way, The Gay Men Project presents a diverse array of gay men, sharing their portraits and stories and capturing how gay men live in every city, every country, and come from every different cultural background out there.
Kevin has amassed a collection of photographs featuring more than 350 gay men - and it's a wonderful testament to the power of story-sharing. Below, Freedom to Marry caught up with Kevin this year to chat specifically about his photographs of gay men in committed relationships - why he's inspired to work on this project, and how it works in tandem with the global momentum to win the freedom to marry.
What motivated you to begin this project?
The project really stemmed from my own coming out to my mom. I was sitting across the table from her, and I told her I was gay, and she just looked really confused.
I asked her a year later what that look was - and she said she was trying to visualize if I would look different or seem different now that she knew I was gay. She explained that she didn't have any reference point to what gay people are like. She was just this 56-year-old Vietnamese woman relying on these stereotypes that aren't always accurate. So this project is about photographing a wide range of men from many cities and many different backgrounds. It's about showing that there is no 'gay look,' no singular gay experience.
The Gay Men Project isn't specifically couples-focused - but what is the benefit of including couples in your project?
I think it's important to see visual representations of gay couples and families. It helps the viewer, whoever that is - people from around the world, people like my mom - who had never seen these visual representations of what a couple could be, what a marriage could be. It's important to include these because they could change people's views.
One of the first couples I photographed was a friend of a friend in Baltimore (above). I went out to Baltimore, where they have the most beautiful, idyllic home with an adopted son from Vietnam. The father of one of the men lived in the same house with them, too, so there were three generations of men living there. And for me personally, even as a gay man living in New York City, it was the first time in my life that I had seen a gay family firsthand. I had never been able to conceptualize it before - and this was at the age of 29. After meeting Mark and Andy, I left thinking for myself, 'Maybe I could have a family like that. Maybe this is something I could have.' I want to help further that dialogue and give more and more visual reference points for the community.
We're seeing such amazing momentum for the freedom to marry nationwide - how does the Gay Men Project fit in?
We're witnessing something very historic right now - when we look back 30, 50, 60 years from now at LGBT rights in the United States, I do feel like there's this period of time right now that will be in history books. It's one of those watershed moments that we will remember, and I want to do my part in documenting the many stories that are out there.
I don't want to just document these court cases and news articles about famous couples and openly gay celebrities - I want there to be documentation of the stories of people like Dustin and Alan, who live in Washington state and plan to marry there soon. It's important to have these people's histories recorded. I think that through The Gay Men Project, I'm working to document these stories. I photograph couples and then urge them to write their story in their own words. I like that I'm able to record and document these stories, and that they're coinciding with this historic, awesome moment for LGBT individuals and the people who love them.
I hope someday stories like these will stand side by side with the Jason Collins and Edie Windsors of the world - I want these everyday stories to be remembered, and I want to photograph as many people as I can.
You've said that you feel like the more men you photograph, the more impact the project has. Will you elaborate on this?
By this point, I've profiled around 350 guys - and that's a cool collection of stories and images. I think there's something about having them stand together in one collection that provides a particular kind of reference point to look back on this historic time.
What do you hope people take away from the photos?
With this project, I feel like any change that I can effect is at the micro level - I'm not a policy maker, and a photo alone doesn't make a grand change. But a photo can leave a big impact on individuals - and that's more of the goal with this project.
For example, it's really changed my mom. When I came out to her, she was supportive and said everything she was supposed to say, but we didn't really ever talk about it. More recently, my mom and I traveled to Vietnam, where I had set up a bunch of times to photograph gay men in Ho Chi Minh City. She went with me to every shoot - and since I don't speak Vietnamese, she was my translator.
When we got back to the United States, I sent her some of the paragraphs I asked these guys to write for the project, and she replied to me in an email, explaining that she checked out The Gay Men Project for the first time. She specifically referred to this guy we met in Ho Chi Minh City, saying, "I remember that guy. I enjoyed meeting him. It was brave of him to tell his story.'
At the end of the email she wrote, 'I hope you make these photographs into a book and share it with the world.' That was the first time in my life where she was really celebrating me being gay - that that was something she was proud of.
That's a change happening in my own life - and I hope that's the kind of change happening in other people's lives. I hope that's the kind of change The Gay Men Project can bring about.