If the portraits in Ashley Kolodner’s photo series GayFace feel familiar to you, she’s accomplished her mission.
Kolodner wants viewers’ reactions to the 130 and counting "gay faces" she’s photographed since January to be something along the lines of " 'Hey, that kind of looks like my cousin,' or 'My aunt kind of looks like that,'" she says, "so it kind of creates a familiarity so people can empathize with the community."
When it comes to the the importance of familiarity for building support for gay rights, Kolodner’s onto something. A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center, which found that 40% of Americans now have a close friend or family member who is gay, writes that "familiarity is closely linked to tolerance": People who have relationships with gay people are far more likely to support gay marriage and other gay-friendly policies. It explains why even conservative politicians with gay family members, like Rob Portman or Dick Cheney, sometimes support gay marriage.
With GayFace, Kolodner aims to build this sense of empathy by showing the most diverse selection of gay people possible. While each person is photographed first with her eyes close and then again with eyes opened, that’s really the only similarity between the models, who run the gamut of race, ethnicity, age and gender. They include Kolodner’s friends as well as strangers recruited on Craigslist for photo-shoots in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Kolodner says that with Supreme Court decisions pending that could decide the fate of gay marriage, she "couldn’t think of a better time to really put this project out—to not only put a voice but a face to people who we’re making second class citizens" through current policies surrounding marriage.
The project has built momentum with coverage across the blogosphere, and Kolodner plans to capitalize on the goodwill by bringing GayFace on the road this spring. She’s planning photo-shoots in Chicago, Ithaca, New York, and across California. The endgame, like so many web art projects, is a Kickstarter to fund more travel and a book. Kolodner eventually wants to include gay faces from at least 30 states. What does Nebraska gay face look like? What about Utah gay face? "Who are these poeple?" Kolodner asks. She’s determined to find out.