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Monday, 28 February 2011

Collaboration 1: We are the Youth

This week, I have a series of interviews about collaborative work.

First up are Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl at We are the Youth ( a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of LGBT youth in the United States). The above pictures are of Quincy, Trevor and Staci - their stories are on the blog and are simple but amazing - a mix of race, religion and sexuality.

What is your day job?
Laurel works as a studio manager for the Brooklyn photographer, Emiliano Granado. Diana works as a freelance journalist for various publications including New York Magazine, Westchester Magazine, City Limits and POZ. 

How did you get involved in this collaborative project?
I had been interested in documenting and photographing queer youth last year and had looked into getting permission to photograph a Gay Prom in NY. Diana and I were talking one day soon after that about how cool it would be to include interviews with the photographs and really turn it into a photojournalism project. So we both went to the Gay Prom, met 200 amazing kids and the project was born!

How did you gain access to the people in the project?
We gain access to the youth we profile in a variety of ways. A lot of social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and a ton of emails to different organizations who then put us in touch with local groups that focus on queer youth. From there, everything kind of builds upon itself -- youth put us in touch with their friends or suggest we go to a certain meet- ups or groups. 

Is there anything you cannot gain access to?
We've been pretty lucky in terms of gaining access to the places and people we've wanted to connect with. We're looking to travel in the upcoming months and hoping to meet queer youth in more remote places where it might not be so okay to be out. We're assuming it will be harder to find queer youth in those areas but we'll have to see how that plays out.

What are the problems with photographing this subject?
We haven't had too many problems finding, photographing and interviewing queer youth, but one issue that comes up is the issue of privacy and how much people realize or don't realize they are sharing. We make it very clear to everyone we profile that if they're not comfortable with something in the interview, they need to let us know and we'll make the appropriate edits before publishing on the website. 

What do you hope to achieve by doing this project?
Our goal for the next year is to widen the demographic of the youth that we're profiling -- we're interested in traveling to more remote areas in the States, maybe the Great Plains and trying to find queer youth in those areas. Long term, we hope to achieve a change in how people view queer youth and the queer community in general. By widening the demographic of the youth that we're profiling we hope to say, "queer people are from all different places, they look all sorts of different ways and act different ways and are interested in all sorts of different things." We hope to fight the stigma attached to being queer by challenging stereotypes and do our best to create a full and encompassing portrait of the queer youth community.  

Were there any assumptions you had made before the project that you realised did not apply?
I'm not sure if this was an assumption per say, but I don't think we realized the extent of the youth organizing and activism that's going on today. We're constantly amazed at the people we meet and the way in which they network with each other. The queer youth community, in some ways, seems smaller than ever, mostly because of the Internet. Everyone knows everyone and queer youth are able to reach out to other youth and create change like never before. Sounds pretty obvious in this Internet-crazy age, but that's something that's really blown our minds! 

Were there any assumptions you made before starting the project that you realised did apply?
Teenagers are hard to track down!

How do you fund this project?

We've been funded by a grant from DoSomething.org, a great organization that funds projects started by young people. We've also done a lot of fundraising -- we did a huge drive through Kickstarter.com a few months ago and have gotten independent donations from strangers, friends and family. 

What constitutes success for this project?
I think success for us happens on a lot of different levels. Being published would definitely mean a certain level of success, but ultimately, just getting the stories out there and reaching a large audience is what we're aiming for. We want queer youth to feel good about telling their story and be proud of who they are. Having kids tell us how much the project means to them -- that's always really awesome and in a way, that's the biggest measure of success, just being able to impact people in a positive way.

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