FUNDED IN PART BY THE PUFFIN FOUNDATION
"The ME in America" explores the diversity of who in fact make up the threads of the American tapestry. Through environmental photographic portraiture, I’ll highlight demographics traditionally underrepresented in American art, media, and politics and in doing so acknowledge a wider range of identities contributing to this union. In showing our truly diverse nature, we expand the depths of our American story.
The "ME in America" photo series explores diversity and representation in America by celebrating the true beauty, impact, and importance of those who are often undercounted, stereotyped, marginalized, and under or misrepresented in the American mainstream. The series also acknowledges and embraces those whose rights are at risk as a result of who they are and whose experiences and needs are more likely unmet in public policy due to some aspect of their identity. The images consist of environmental portraits where both the subject and their environment help shape a chapter in the collective American narrative, featuring individuals who represent a variety of "identity" boxes based on how they have chosen to identify themselves. As a result, the work reflects various examples of who an American is and what an American does.
It is my hope this project will add to the greater narrative. My goal is to acknowledge that exclusions exist in society’s perceptions of America, and to challenge and update those perceptions. It is also to celebrate the beauty of the diversity that encompasses the true American experience.
When entire communities and individuals go unrepresented, underrepresented, or misrepresented, the ramifications are impactful. Increasing visibility helps to shift narratives of division and normalize acceptance and diversity. Census data, for example, often undercounts BIPOC communities, undocumented individuals, who often abstain from reporting, and other groups who are also disproportionately misrepresented or underrepresented in arts, media and are undercounted. Census data influences how funding is allocated, the drawing of district lines and ultimately government representation, hence inaccuracies result in inequitable distribution of funding and power.
Normalizing the positive and realistic portrayal of the diversity in expressions of gender identity and in sexual orientation, are also consequential. Showing alternatives to the hetero-cisnormative narrative is crucial to supporting equity. A study by Tyler Johnson, published in Politics and Policy showed that equality framing in media largely affected the increase in the acceptance of same-sex marriages and civil unions shifting the policy debate and extending rights to more people.
Representation in the media has the immense power to influence perceptions of the self as well as the other. In Psychology Today, Kevin Leo Yabut Nadal, Ph.D. states “Positive media representation can be helpful in increasing self-esteem for people of marginalized groups. Interpersonal contact and exposure through media representation can assist in reducing stereotypes of underrepresented groups. Representation in educational curricula…can provide validation and support.”
Although representation has somewhat improved for many groups, there are still not enough instances when we, the “other”, see ourselves respected as part of the American collective for our contributions and impact to our society. Just as few are the opportunities for those who enjoy the privilege of being accepted as the “norm” to be invited to engage in these dialogues around identity and privilege; as well as access.
Firsthand, I relate to existing in a society where my personal experience is rarely portrayed in the mainstream and where I am part of the group considered the “other”, although it can be argued that there are more others than not. Creating the platform for the “other” to be seen and respected, is one reason I became a photographer over 2 decades ago.