Stories of acceptanceby Penelope Starr on Dec. 19, 2011, under Arts, community
MyAcceptance.org is an ongoing photo essay project that documents the stories of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender (LGBT) community. Creator Parker Austin answered some of my questions about this unique website that combines photographs with a written narrative in order to “reflect the subject’s journey through life in a compelling way.” Austin says the photos and essays, “reveal how (the subject) walked through the homophobia and fear of their past and found a future of hope.
Starr: How did you get the idea for MyAcceptance.org?
Austin: The idea for the project started about 6 months ago, I was watching a documentary on the LGBT community and their lives. The film crew interviewed a transgender man, who talked about how when he looked in the mirror he would feel physically disgusted at what he saw. For some reason that just stuck with me, and I couldn’t get it out of my head that someone, anyone could feel that way. The more I thought about it the more I wanted to know if this was more common or just one persons feelings.
As I did more research the more I found that it was much more of a common feeling than I could have ever imagined. I talked with a few of my friends who are gay and asked them what it was like for them growing up. The stories I heard amazed me, by how different and amazing they could be but at the same time still have a common thread to them. How they learned to accept themselves for who they really are. Sometimes that took until they were in their 40′s or even longer to do so. All of them told me about how they would go to bed praying to God to wake up the next day being straight or just to not wake up at all. When they woke up the same person they went to bed as it sent them into a deeper depression and a feeling that they were the only one’s feeling this way.
Listening to those stories and knowing what they went through and that others are still feeling those feelings everyday, I wanted to do something. I figured if I could somehow capture how they felt in images, and make those images as powerful as I could then maybe it would catch someone’s eye out there who is feeling those same feelings and they could see how that person feels now or catch that person’s eye who bullies those that are different and show them the effects of what they are doing. That those images could quickly show in a passing glance how that person’s life has changed. Hopefully with these images people will take the time to read the stories and see how homophobia has a lasting affect on people.
Starr: Why stories? What is your connection to storytelling?
Austin: I grew up with stories, I remember sitting around the dinner table at night and listening to my dad tell us stories about his life growing up. I remember how much those stories used to make me laugh. Story telling really is an art; if you can tell a great story then you can bring other people into your life for a moment and make them feel however you want them to. I think because of that I love to tell stories and I love listening to other people tell stories.
I love talking to people and asking them about their lives because I find that more often than not they have some amazing stories to tell and have done some amazing things in their life. I think that a lot of people today are so focused on their own lives that they don’t take the time to listen to others and have an understanding of someone else’s point of view. I figured that if I can get people to read and understand where the subjects are coming from than maybe they’ll think twice about how they treat others.
Starr: How do you see the connection / difference between your images and the written story?
Austin: I try my best to do justice to the subject’s story when I create the ideas for the images because everyone deserves a photo shoot that represents who they are and what they went through. So for example, one of the subjects, Andrea James grew up always having to hide who she was. She talked about how she felt like an actor growing up, always changing who she was to fit the part she was supposed to play. I wanted a way to show that feeling, so I came up with the idea of using masks to show her many different faces she used in her life. I’m really proud of that shot because I think it works for a lot of people not just members of the LGBT community. I think a lot of people try and hide behind “masks” because they are afraid to be who they really are or do what they really want.
My images only show two snap shots of the subjects life: that one key moment or feeling that they had growing up and then a shot that represents how they feel now. When you read their story you have a better idea of who they are and what they’ve been through.
For more of Austin’s work check out www.ParkerAustin.com