Daily Picture Show

Portraits Of 'Queer' America

Photographer Molly Landreth (right) and filmmaker Amelia Tovey at work. i i

Photographer Molly Landreth (right) and filmmaker Amelia Tovey at work. Courtesy of Molly Landreth hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Molly Landreth
Photographer Molly Landreth (right) and filmmaker Amelia Tovey at work.

Photographer Molly Landreth (right) and filmmaker Amelia Tovey at work.

Courtesy of Molly Landreth

From Jackson, Miss., to Mount Vernon, Wash., photographer Molly Landreth and filmmaker Amelia Tovey have traveled the country documenting the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Their recently launched Web documentary project, called "Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America," is a collection of short films and photographic portraits.

As Landreth explains on Etsy, she uses a large-format film camera to make these portraits that are, on the one hand, in a traditional style of portraiture, but on the other hand, quite unlike portraits that have preceded them.

  • Meg And Renee, Seattle, Wash., 2007: I met Meg while we were both on the same study-abroad program in college.  Years later we found ourselves living in Seattle, and through her I met Renee. This picture is not only a portrait of two close friends but also a reflection of the immense love that I feel for both of them.
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    Meg And Renee, Seattle, Wash., 2007: I met Meg while we were both on the same study-abroad program in college. Years later we found ourselves living in Seattle, and through her I met Renee. This picture is not only a portrait of two close friends but also a reflection of the immense love that I feel for both of them.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Brit At Roller Derby Practice, Austin, Texas, 2009: We had a great time working with Brit, who was determined to articulate her definition of the undefinable word "queer."  Filming for hours in her apartment, we lost track of the time, made her super late for derby practice, arriving just before the sun set!
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    Brit At Roller Derby Practice, Austin, Texas, 2009: We had a great time working with Brit, who was determined to articulate her definition of the undefinable word "queer." Filming for hours in her apartment, we lost track of the time, made her super late for derby practice, arriving just before the sun set!
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Chickadee And Her Family, Concrete, Wash., 2006: I found Chickadee on MySpace and was immediately hooked by her photographs of playing the ukulele. I arranged to meet her at her house and was pretty shocked when I drove up the driveway and saw where they lived. It felt like a fairytale.
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    Chickadee And Her Family, Concrete, Wash., 2006: I found Chickadee on MySpace and was immediately hooked by her photographs of playing the ukulele. I arranged to meet her at her house and was pretty shocked when I drove up the driveway and saw where they lived. It felt like a fairytale.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Ashley Jackson, Jackson, Miss., 2009: Amelia and I met Ashley on a road trip in 2009 through a young person we photographed in Wisconsin. She was so beautiful and smart, the three of us clicked right away. She talked about her childhood being raised in the rural South in a very religious family.
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    Ashley Jackson, Jackson, Miss., 2009: Amelia and I met Ashley on a road trip in 2009 through a young person we photographed in Wisconsin. She was so beautiful and smart, the three of us clicked right away. She talked about her childhood being raised in the rural South in a very religious family.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Gary And Jeremy, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2005: This was one of the first photographs I took for this project — before this project even had a name. Jeremy was my roommate in Brooklyn, Gary was his new boyfriend, and the diner was down the street from us on Atlantic Avenue.
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    Gary And Jeremy, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2005: This was one of the first photographs I took for this project — before this project even had a name. Jeremy was my roommate in Brooklyn, Gary was his new boyfriend, and the diner was down the street from us on Atlantic Avenue.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Cooper, Oakland, Calif., 2009: Cooper is an incredible performance artist whom I met and saw perform in Portland at "Freak Show A-Go-Go" a few years before this was taken. We felt really lucky to run into him again and steal enough time in Oakland to make this portrait and a film that will be released later this year.
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    Cooper, Oakland, Calif., 2009: Cooper is an incredible performance artist whom I met and saw perform in Portland at "Freak Show A-Go-Go" a few years before this was taken. We felt really lucky to run into him again and steal enough time in Oakland to make this portrait and a film that will be released later this year.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Shey On Lake Michigan, Chicago, Ill., 2009: Shey is a friend of mine from Seattle who had just moved to Chicago — his first time living away from the city he always called home.
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    Shey On Lake Michigan, Chicago, Ill., 2009: Shey is a friend of mine from Seattle who had just moved to Chicago — his first time living away from the city he always called home.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Cruz, Aka Jalesa, Columbus, Ohio, 2007: I met Cruz, a shy, sleepy teenager who feigned disinterest for hours on the couch while I photographed his friends. After a while, however, I noticed that Cruz was transforming. A wig, a borrowed coat and some eyeliner was all it took to change him into Jalesa, a bold girl who stepped confidently in front of my lens.
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    Cruz, Aka Jalesa, Columbus, Ohio, 2007: I met Cruz, a shy, sleepy teenager who feigned disinterest for hours on the couch while I photographed his friends. After a while, however, I noticed that Cruz was transforming. A wig, a borrowed coat and some eyeliner was all it took to change him into Jalesa, a bold girl who stepped confidently in front of my lens.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Travis At Gay Skate Glendale, Calif., 2005: Travis was the roomate of one of my best friends, who I was visiting during a holiday. ... When I told them about this project they immediately said that they wanted to take me out to Gay Skate. It doesn't look like it in this picture, but the place was quite busy that night and there were a number of folks whirling around in roller skates.
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    Travis At Gay Skate Glendale, Calif., 2005: Travis was the roomate of one of my best friends, who I was visiting during a holiday. ... When I told them about this project they immediately said that they wanted to take me out to Gay Skate. It doesn't look like it in this picture, but the place was quite busy that night and there were a number of folks whirling around in roller skates.
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth
  • Rob And Jim, Detroit, Mich., 2007: I found Rob and Jim after stumbling onto Rob's blog about gay Detroit. They ... [have] been together for more than 20 years, constantly remodeling and re-creating their home together. They are a real inspiration to me now, so many years later, and role models for what a long-term committed relationship can look like."
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    Rob And Jim, Detroit, Mich., 2007: I found Rob and Jim after stumbling onto Rob's blog about gay Detroit. They ... [have] been together for more than 20 years, constantly remodeling and re-creating their home together. They are a real inspiration to me now, so many years later, and role models for what a long-term committed relationship can look like."
    Courtesy of Molly Landreth

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Picture Show: How do you find your subjects? How do you get to them?

Molly Landreth: I find my subjects through friends and through other subjects quite often. My favorite way to find folks, though, is through MySpace and Facebook. I love doing strings of random word searches and seeing who pops up. It is so exciting when someone you've never met before and have no real connection to says that they'd like to sit for a photograph. It's like stepping out of my life for a second and totally becoming absorbed in someone else's. It is always such an adventure.

Could you talk a bit about your choice of camera/format/medium?

I love using large- and medium-format film photography because it forces me to slow down and brings a certain feeling of calm and focus to the event. Because of cost and labor, I only take about four to six shots per photo shoot, so everything is very deliberate and intentional, making the subject and I really work together to make ever image count.

Would you call these traditional portraits?

Absolutely. I love looking at the old formal portraits that hang on the walls of my grandparents' house. They are so simple and classic. I love that the subjects in them, my family from 100 years ago that I will never meet, sat for those photographs with the intention of being remembered, of leaving a trace of who they were and what their family looked like at that moment in time. That is a concept and feeling that I very much bring with me to every photo session.

What have you learned throughout the process?

I have learned that amazing things can come out of being brave. Brave in your life and brave in your voice and vision.

What's next for you?

I want to publish this body of work as a book — that has been a dream of mine for so long, and I'm working hard to make that happen. I'm also excited about my next project, which I've just started to research and photograph. The specifics are still under wraps, but it's very focused on this idea of exploring community and the region where I'm from ... the Puget Sound area, where my family settled generations ago and where I find myself returning to again and again.

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