One of the most touching moments for me while working on my "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" photo series has been the photographing of couples. It dawned on me recently, that the element of relationships and couples, particularly of men, has been very invisible when talking DADT, and I'm sure a lot of this has to do with most of straight America being still slightly uncomfortable with the idea of two guys together.
I wanted to applaud the Los Angeles Times for using the below photograph I took as part of their weekend online coverage of my recent exhibition opening. A lot of credit goes to journalist David Ng, who spent almost a year covering this series, following me on four different photo shoots, and extensively interviewing the service members in my photographs. It was interesting for me to note however, that the image the LA Times chose to use in the print edition was not the one of the couple "Tristan and Zeke", but of the female Marine "Ellis."
(more images and commentary after the jump)
Not that I think one image is better than the other, nor that this was necessarily gay censorship on their part, but it did give me more food for thought on my recent pondering of the invisibility of photographic depictions of male couples in the debate on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (Were more conservative readers of the print edition more likely to be offended?)
A traditional line of thinking on the talking points for repeal has been to talk about military preparedness and fairness, while only more recently have I begun to hear more talk in the media about the toll DADT takes on families and partners of those serving. I also think the photograph of "Tristan and Zeke" - two marines who serve together and in a relationship - might even cause some advocates for repeal some nervousness. Their fear of course is that for anti-gay America, what this image depicts is exactly why they fight to keep the repeal in place.
To be honest, when I first began shooting the series in early 2009, I had a similar concern that if I were to photograph two men together, that these images might potentially hurt the repeal effort. I actually didn't photograph any male couples in the first year of working on the series, and it wasn't until early this year when I got over this fear of mine - and now, it is photographing these couples and relationships that are the most touching and important for me. Relationships are in many ways such an essential part of being human, and we shouldn't deny the existence of them in the military and in the discussions and depictions of who is harmed by DADT.
Incidentally, this past weekend Servicemembers United held a first of a kind meeting between the Pentagon and military partners. I actually first heard about this event through one of the male couples I photographed, "Brad and Clay." Their story is featured as part of my recently released "Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Volume 2" photobook, and along with their photograph, I asked them to respond to what the image means to them, and "Clay" writes to his husband "Brad":
"One significant thing that stands out about our photo is my wedding band. While in uniform, it's a constant reminder of my love and commitment to you, a very large part of my life and being, which I have to remain silent about. I listen to others around me talking of their families and loved ones and I'm not allowed to say a thing. That angers me because I'm proud to be a part of your life and I too want to share that part of me to the people I work with. I feel no one in the military truly knows me, the real me." - Clay (to Brad)
It is this kind of emotion and love, and what can't be expressed while we still have "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" that makes me realize the importance of repealing this policy as soon as we can.