Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life In America

This fall, CLAGS is excited to host an event with the 2009-2010 Robert Giard Fellowship winners Molly Landreth and Amelia Tovey for their groundbreaking multi-media project. Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life In America is a collection of photographs and films that explore and capture the varied lives of queer people living in America today. Both Molly and Amelia were able to take some time to share more about their journey to document the depth and breadth of LGBTQ lives across the country:

Why did you both feel compelled to begin this journey?
Molly Landreth: I really felt a need to see complex representations of LGBTQ people that I could really relate to and learn from. I couldn’t find what I wanted anywhere so I started making them myself, and it has just continued to grow and expand with that DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality at the forefront of everything we do. I’ve been reaching out to the original participants of this project over the past few months and realize that some of them were photographed almost eight years now and they are still contributing to its growth in some capacity. It’s so rewarding to see the original idea develop in such a meaningful way.
Amelia Tovey: I felt compelled to join Molly about half way through the project in 2009. I met Molly in 2005 when she took my portrait, right around the time Embodiment was starting to take shape, and so I felt [equally] connected to the work personally, and professionally. For me, the journey was an extension of friendship, professional collaboration, and a means of giving back to my queer community.
What are your overall goals for
AT: I hope that people, be they queer or not, feel surprised and moved by the varied stories and faces they encounter. I hope that people experience something new that they haven’t experienced through any other project or documentary. And I hope that the experience of letting people speak for themselves is as moving to viewers as it was to us by being there.
ML: I agree with Amelia and want to add that another goal is to make this work accessible and engaging with a large audience through a variety of media. To fulfill these goals we have (with the help of the Robert Girard Fellowship) created an interactive online exhibition which launched in July and featured videos, photographs & statements by project participants. Another thing that makes this project unique is that we have an independent, online gallery which makes purchasing signed, limited edition prints not only accessible, but affordable and sustains our production at the same time.
What has been the most surprising aspect of your project?
AT: I am still surprised by the beautiful, proud spirit of queer people living in rural and religious parts of the USA. Being able to balance your religious, racial, gender and sexual identity in places that are typically thought to be backward is an inspiration.
ML: I am still surprised that this huge country of ours turns into a friendly small town when you are navigating it from one queer door step to the next. Folks welcome you like family! They put a roof over your head, cook for you, introduce you to their friends, fill you in on local gossip… and, no matter who they are, you find out that you have mutual friends. It makes everyone we feature feel like family and in that way, I really want to honor them.
Where are you in the process towards completion of the project?
AT: Editing! I’m a video editing machine.
ML: Uploading content to the new website, tracking down old subjects, building excitement around the launch and brainstorming funding for a book project. I’m also getting ready for a short residency in Colorado this summer where we have an exhibition going up and I will have a chance to create a few new portraits. Very excited about that and hoping to find some cowboys….or cowgirls!
With such an enormous project to tackle, what and when will completion look or feel like?
ML: A DVD of the films and a hardcover monograph of the photographs displayed on my coffee table, and a big party were the creative team and the project participants can be in one place and drink champagne together and be proud of what we have accomplished.
What are you looking forward to sharing for the New York event and reception in the Fall?
ML: New work, new stories, and maybe a glass of that champagne I just mentioned!
Stay tuned for more details on both Embodiment and well as the CLAGS reception where you will be able to witness for yourselves this amazing archive endeavor.