Photographer shows the world that ‘First Comes Love’ with new project

Since the beginning of the movement to win marriage for same-sex qualities - and, more broadly, equality for LGBT people throughout history - it has been vital for the rest of the country to see true depictions of members of the community: real stories, real photos, real expressions of their desires and their struggles.

Since 2009, photographer, writer and filmmaker Barbara Proud (or B. Proud) has been adding to that collection of real stories, curating photos and video for her project First Comes Love, which captures the love and commitment of same-sex couples in long-term relationships.

The beautiful black-and-white photographs include a wide range of couples - from couples who have prominently and famously fought for the freedom to marry, like Houston Mayor Annise Parker and her wife Kathy Hubbard - to friends of Proud to everyday couples leading their lives as examples of why marriage matters to all families. It is a celebration of love, an example of more than 70 couples who have committed their lives to each other, and a reminder that this national discussion and nationwide campaign intimately concerns real people and real families.

This winter, from January 10 until February 28, 2014, B. Proud will exhibit a selection of 14 portraits from First Comes Love at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia, PA, beginning with an open reception on January 10 from 6-8pm to kick off "Love & Devotion." The exhibit is curated by Jordan Rockford, a Senior Lecturer at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and founding member of the NAPOLEON artist collective. 

First Comes Love will be showcased alongside Antony Osso's The Devotion Project, a series of moving videos featuring same-sex couples. Freedom to Marry spoke with director Tony Osso last year - read our Q&A HERE. On February 15 from 3-5pm, the Center will host a special event featuring appearances and remarks by Tony Osso, several couples featured in The Devotion Project, and Freedom to Marry's Digital Director, Michael Crawford. Learn more about the events at the William Way LGBT Community Center HERE.

To get a better idea of what the mission of First Comes Love is, Freedom to Marry spoke with B. Proud about her methods, her motivations, and what she hopes to accomplish with this stunning collection of portraits. You can learn more about First Comes Love HERE. 

What motivated you to begin First Comes Love?

It really was a series of things, starting with my 20th anniversary with my partner. That event made us the longest-surviving couple in our families, and for years, we've been the go-to couple for our family.

Shortly after our anniversary was the 2008 election, where President Obama was elected, which was great, but then in the same election, Proposition 8 passed in California - plus a few other ballot measures in Arizona and Arkansas. That really upset me - and my sadness over the election paired with my happiness at my anniversary served as motivation for First Comes Love.

I had just finished a fine art series, and I needed a new project, so I decided to make one that celebrated our relationships and was socially conscious and worked to change some minds on LGBTQ relationships. I decided to celebrate the couples in our community who have been together for a very, very long time. 

How did you find the couples and families to be profiled in the project?

Some of the initial photographs came from my personal connections and social networks. My partner and I have friends who have been together for many, many years, and it was nice to be able to celebrate those relationships. 

For a few of the portraits, I reached out to people I had in mind in particular - I reached out to Kris & Sandy and Paul & Jeff [the plaintiffs in the legal challenge to Proposition 8, brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights] through Facebook, and I told them what I was doing, and they said that they'd love to participate. A few years ago, I photographed Bishop Gene Robinson in Philadelphia for the cover of a magazine, and I jumped at the chance after our session to tell him what I was embarking on, and he gladly participated, too. That was really special - he's a rock star.

I've been able to photograph couples from all cross the country - from Florida to Illinois to California to Texas to New Hampshire - and that geographic diversity has been really important to this. 

What have you learned from your work with First Comes Love?

Aside from learning more about the best way to showcase the diversity and strength of our community, I also learned some technical skills - First Comes Love was my first time filming video. So, in addition to the photographs, I was able to interview the couples on video and have footage for video stories to supplement the portraits.

What do you most hope audiences take away from First Comes Love?

I know that in many ways, I'm preaching to the choir with First Comes Love - but I think the project does a good job at celebrating all of these couples. I deliberately decided to make the portraits black and white because I wanted to strop away all of the rainbow connotations people have about the LGBT community and challenge the typical view of what's portrayed in the media, which is usually some sort of protest or parade. I wanted to strip these portraits down to the essence of who these people are: Real people, living everyday lives, going through the same things that many other people go through.

I'd eventually like the exhibit to be shown in public places where people unfamiliar with the LGBTQ community can learn more about these people, their lives, and their love. 

What is the next step for the project?

I'm finishing up writing the stories now that supplement the portraits, and I aim to complete a book version of First Comes Love soon. But ultimately, First Comes Love is not just a book - it's an entire project. It's a website, an exhibition, a book, and possibly a film. Through all of these things, I hope to celebrate our relationships and community in a way that has not really been done before - to tell the "real story." I would like to honor the LGBTQ community while educating the general public and, at the same time, provide an example for younger generations that they too can have long-lasting, loving relationships - hopefully ones that are legally recognized.

I'm excited to continue taking this project further - there's still a lot of work to do. It's amazing to see more and more states pass marriage laws across the country, but just because the laws say that people can marry, that doesn't mean that these couples and families are accepted by everyone. I want the younger community to grow up in a place where differences like who they love aren't stressors.

Learn more about First Comes Love HERE, and contribute to the success and growth of the project HERE.