NEW YORK – “This all started as a possibility,” New York City photographer Charzette Torrence said about “Just As We Are,” her exhibit of 25 black and white portraits of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals. The exhibit opens Dec. 9 in New York City. Torrence hopes to bring it to Detroit next year.
“I just got tired,” Torrence replied when asked what inspired the exhibit. Tired, that is, of how the mainstream media portrays LGBT people.
“I decided to do this project because it’s just been on my mind this year when people are talking about how the media is treating us,” she said. “Until we show them a different light visually then the media imagery isn’t going to change.”
Through word of mouth the Detroit native got LGBT people of all walks of life to volunteer to be photographed for the exhibit.
“These portraits, you look at them and everyone is just proud of who they are, they’re not ashamed,” Torrence said. “They’re just normal people.”
Hence the exhibit’s title. By portraying LGBT people as more than the sum of their sexual orientation, Torrence hopes to dispel some of the myths and misinformation surrounding the community.
“They’re not threatening,” she said of her subjects. “You get a good understanding of who they are and what they contribute to the world.”
June Washington, a longtime fixture on Detroit’s LGBT scene, is featured in the exhibit.
Washington spent nearly 20 years working to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Detroit area before retiring. She also served on the boards of Detroit Black Gay Pride and the A. L.O.R.D.E. Collective, founded Ladies of a Current Affair, a social group for lesbians, spent several years in the Billionaire Boys’ Club and twice co-chaired the Human Rights Campaign’s Michigan Dinner Event.
Torrence calls Washington “the poster child” for the exhibit, adding that Washington’s image is on the front of all 5,000 invitations to the event’s opening.
Torrence captured Washington in July while Washington was relaxing on the beach just outside her summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. The two have a long history of working together. Washington first posed for Torrence in 1998 for a Hotter Than July campaign that graced the cover of Between The Lines and won the photographer and newspaper a Vice Versa Award in 2000.
“She can catch a part of you and bring it out in the photo that you would only dream of looking that way,” Washington said of Torrence some years ago. “She can create a new image of you.”
A native Detroiter, Torrence earned a bachelors degree in fine arts from the College for Creative Studies before teaching photography in the Detroit Public School System. She worked for several successful years in the area under the name Big As Life Photos before moving to New York and creating Charlie T. Photography.
“My photography has attitude,” Torrence, whose work has appeared in the Detroit Free Press and magazines such as Black Enterprise, Emerge and Essence, once told BTL. “My eye has attitude.”
In addition to Washington, the “Just As We Are” exhibit features such notables as former Connecticut state senator Chuck Allen, Director of the University Learning Center at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and former Fulbright scholar Marybeth Boger, Executive Director of In The Life Media, Inc. Brian Dean, Regional Media Manager for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Nichole Wicks and jazz composer Lomont Barlow.
“This project means so much to me,” Torrence said. “I want the world to see us in a different light … and I want people to be inspired by this and to make a change in the way they think and to help and contribute to our community. I want people to feel proud about themselves. It’s okay to come out about being gay, to be just who you are.”
Additional reporting by Jason A. Michael.