My mom is a strong black woman who raised her kids to have the same sense of strength and pride. This spirit was epitomized by a single wall in our small, two-bedroom apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Two pictures hung proudly: one larger-than-life photo of my siblings and I — and the other — a picture of my mom at 12 years old staring into the eyes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When I was younger, I used to stand on my tippy-toes, stare at that picture, close my eyes tightly, and just pretend that it was me gazing up at the man who revolutionized the civil rights movement, who marched on Washington, and who transformed a generation with his words, “I have a dream.”
…Whatever you want, chase after it with everything you have. Not because of the fame or the fortune, but solely because that’s what you believe in, because that’s what makes your heart sing, that’s what your dance is. That’s what is going to define our generation.
Four, almost five years ago, Proposition 8, the great marriage equality debate, was raising a lot of dust around this country. And, at the time, getting married wasn’t really something I’d spent a lot of time thinking about, but I was struck by the fact that America, a country with such a tarnished civil rights record, could be repeating its mistakes so blatantly…
And this powerful awareness rolled in over me that I was a minority, and in my own home country, based on one facet of my character. I was legally and indisputably, a second-class citizen.
I was not an activist. I waved no flags in my own life. But I was plagued by this question: How could anyone vote to strip the rights of the vast variety of people that I knew, based on one element of their character? How could they say that we as a group were not as deserving of equal rights as somebody else?
Were we even a group? What group? And had these people even ever consciously met a victim of the discrimination? Did they know who they were voting against and what the impact was?
And then it occurred to me. Perhaps if they could look into the eyes of the people that they were casting into second-class citizenship, it might make it harder for them to do. It might give them pause.
Obviously, I couldn’t get 20 million people to the same dinner party, so I I figured out a way where I could introduce them to each other photographically — without any artifice, without any lighting, or any manipulation of any kind on my part. Because in a photograph, you can examine a lion’s whiskers without the fear of him ripping your face off.
For me, photography is not just about exposing film, it’s about exposing the viewer. To something new; a place they haven’t gone before; but — most importantly — to people they might be afraid of.