In the spring of 2016, if all goes according to plan, an exhibition of 10,000 portrait photographs will go on display in the National Mall. There will be photos of people of all ages from all 50 states, from every cultural background and economic class. In fact, each of the subjects will be different in every way imaginable, with one exception: They will all identify themselves as something other than 100 percent straight.
On Friday night in the Funk Zone, Santa Barbara got a preview of the disproportionately large part that it will play in this noble effort, with 93 local portraits from the Self Evident Truths campaign on view inside the Santa Barbara Art Foundry. The goal of this project is to humanize people who consider themselves part of the LGBT community to demonstrate to people who are not acquainted with this community that they are as diverse a group as any other. This is a fact that is already evident from the relatively small sampling of Santa Barbara photographs that were on display on Friday.
The project was created by New York artist iO Tillett Wright, who admits that she has a tendency to think big. Wright grew up in a family that allowed her to spend eight years of her youth pretending to be a boy and was similarly unshocked when she then decided to go back to being a girl at age 14. So, when Proposition 8 found its way onto California ballots in 2010, Wright was understandably shocked that the acceptance she had received from her parents was not shared by a large part of this country. She felt the need to mobilize to help spread understanding of the LGBT community to those who felt compelled to vote against it, and the Self Evident Truths project was born. Wright’s original goal of photographing 4,000 people in 25 cities across the country quickly ballooned as requests to be included poured in.
As of Friday night, Wright had collected around 6,500 portraits, each taken in front of a simple black background. This commonality has the intended effect of emphasizing the vast array of disparate faces on display. While it is certainly the case that some of these photos depict people that would (proudly) have a hard time blending in at the Republican National Convention, it is also the case that the vast majority of subjects could be found in any city or town in the country, which is precisely the point. For viewers who might not be acquainted with someone who considers themselves part of the LGBT community, the photographs provide a nonthreatening way of looking into the face of these otherwise ordinary people.
More photos were scheduled to be taken at the Pacific Pride Festival on Saturday, so Santa Barbara’s representation in the project will be much greater than the initial 93 that were on view Friday. The campaign will culminate with a march on Washington just before the next big national election, and if Wright gets her way, President Obama will speak at the event. It is an ambitious goal to be sure. And while it is hard to imagine what an installation of all 10,000 portraits will look like, it is certainly not hard to imagine an artist with Wright’s drive and charisma pulling it off.