By Diane Barnes
A photography exhibition coming to Delaware and Washington, D.C., portrays dozens of U.S. couples bound by love throughout much of their lives, including decades when Americans largely turned a blind eye to the feelings that held them together.
First Comes Love uses black and white photographs, written narratives, and video interviews to showcase 65 relationships between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer couples. The collection—contained in the touring exhibition and in a newly released hardcover book—attempts to reveal “the more personal side of who we are,” project creator Barbara Proud told Tagg in an interview.
Each couple comes to the camera on its own terms, in a scene reflective of the lives of its members. Sinjoyla Townsend and Angelisa Young, the first same-sex couple to be married in Washington, D.C., sit locked in embrace. Sandra Holiday stands contemplatively beneath a portrait of her partner Anita Priest, who fell victim to cancer after they had spent more than two decades together. In the book’s final image, Proud and her 26-year partner Allison Cassidy watch the sun rise from Virginia’s shore as their Labrador retriever gazes toward the viewer.
“I watched people at the exhibitions, gay and straight alike, not just look at the photographs, but when they read the story next to it, I’ve watched them come to tears, even our allies who already understand,” said Proud.
She launched the project partly in reaction to the 2008 passage of Proposition 8, the now defunct California measure that banned new same-sex marriages across the state until 2013. The Supreme Court overturned the California move and gutted federal restrictions on gay marriage last year, but Proud said there is far more work to do.
“Even though the tide is rolling across the country with more and more states adding same-sex marriage to their laws, changing the laws doesn’t change people’s minds,” she said. “People still don’t understand who we are, what we are, what we stand for, and that our love is really valid.”
The project meant enough to the photographer that she paid out of her own pocket to publish the collection.
“The mainstream publishing houses turned down the opportunity, saying there was no market, so it was that important to me that I felt I had to do it anyway and do it on my own,” said Proud, who is an adjunct professor at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.
“It’s those who don’t understand us that I really would hope to reach,” she said. “Perhaps a son or daughter who is just coming out and trying to explain to their parents what their life will be like. They can show this book to them and say, ‘See? Look at this: these are examples of what my relationship will be.'”
First Comes Love is scheduled to come to Rehoboth Beach on October 18 at Camp Rehoboth and Washington, D.C., in a November 6 exhibition and book signing hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. Details for the events are listed on the project’s Web site, where the book is already available to order.