Joel Robison’s Faces of Pride photo series examines what it’s like to be LGBTQ2IA+. It features a variety of queer people from all walks of life (photo courtesy of Joel Robison)

Joel Robison’s Faces of Pride photo series examines what it’s like to be LGBTQ2IA+. It features a variety of queer people from all walks of life (photo courtesy of Joel Robison)

Joel Robison’s ‘Faces of Pride’, a celebration of authenticity and self-expression

Cranbrook artist Joel Robison documents the lives of LGBTQ2IA+ people through new photo series

Cranbrook artist Joel Robison has travelled all over the world to photograph people, but one of his most unique projects lies a little closer to home.

Faces of Pride, a series of portraits of local LGBTQ2IA+ people, is a historic milestone for Cranbrook. For the first time, queer people have stepped out of the shadows and into the public eye to officially represent their community; to show the world who they really are with the hope they can pave the way to a more inclusive future.

“You can really see the different lives that people have led,” said Robison. “People who were going to Pride parades in the ‘70s and getting arrested, all the way up to teenagers now that are feeling more free and open to be who they are.

“It’s quite poignant and it’s important. We need to be able to learn from each other.”

The photo display debuts at Key City Theatre on the evening of June 8. There will be an official reception at 6:30 p.m. and a dance with live music from Mile High Club at 7:30. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the people who participated in the project.

Once the event is finished, the photos will find new homes on the walls of various Cranbrook businesses and they will stay there for the summer.

The people Robison photographed range in age from their teens to early ‘80s. They have different ethnic backgrounds and upbringings, and their sexualities range from gay to transgender to pansexual. The common thread that winds its way through all their stories, is their desire to show their true identity and live life on their own terms.

“When you’re looking face-to-face at somebody, you’re seeing them for who they are,” said Robison. “There were times when I got emotional thinking about all the things this person may have gone through or the life that they have compared to what it might have been 20 or 30 years ago. It was an amazing opportunity to look at change and progress.”

Robison partnered with Key City Theatre manager Brenda Burley on the project. He took the photos and provided the artistic visition, while Burley interviewed the participants to find out more about them. Each of the photos will have a QR code that can be scanned to read about their life story.

They originally planned to photograph 20 people, but word spread quickly, and they found themselves with more participants than anticipated.

“We actually had to turn people away at the end because we didn’t have the time or the space to fit everybody in,” said Robison.

“It was a great problem to have.”

Approximately 40 portraits are included in the finished display.

READ MORE: Faces of Pride – An artistic journey into the heart and soul of Cranbrook’s LGBTQ2IA+ community

Robison tossed a few project ideas about before he settled on his final choice — close-ups of people’s hands holding a polaroid image of their portrait. The idea came to him the night before the first shoot, when he was lying in bed.

“I was kind of racking my brain to come up with something with the right mood for the project, that would give people the chance to have their own personality show up in the photos,” he recalled.

A few students from Mount Baker Secondary School’s Gay-Straight Alliance helped him paint the backdrops for the portraits and some decided to take part in the project.

For Robison, the project hits close to home. He came out as gay 20 years ago — a decision that was both freeing and scary.

“There weren’t a lot of other people I knew who were out and there wasn’t a sense of community or openess. I think for a lot of people, I may have been the first ‘out’ person they knew. With that, comes a lot of responsibility. You become the face of something that people don’t understand.”

Society was not as open to LGBTQ2IA+ people when Robison was growing up in Cranbrook. He experienced verbal abuse and people cut him out of their lives when they found out about his sexual orientation.

When he was in college, he sometimes had to leave a party early because people were hostile to him.

He avoided bringing up his sexuality around people he wasn’t familiar with.

“You kind of had to weigh the situation. Is is safe for me? Is something going to happen to me?’”

Seeing bright beaming faces pose for photographs reminds Robison of how far society has come.

“To see the growth and the change that has happened over the last 20 years in Cranbrook has been amazing. Schools are far more open and accepting and people in the community are welcoming and open. It’s great to see that people are being accepted, loved and respected.”

Robison said the idea behind displaying the photos in businesses around town, is so that LGBTQ2IA+ know they have a place they can visit where they are wholeheartedly accepted.

“You see a lot of businesses that are happy to change a Facebook logo or to put a sticker out, but it does need more than that … This is a chance for people to stand up and say ‘we do want to be there for you and we can do that.’”

Ultimately, the project is a celebration of being. It gives a group of people the chance to express themselves freely in a way that is completely authentic.

“The point of the project is to show the rest of the community that we’re just like everybody else. We are teachers. We work in hospitals and in stores. We’re your neighbours. We would like to share more about who we are so people understand.”

“The world is full of really good people and really great stories.”


@gfrans15
gillian.francis@cranbrooktownsman.com

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In each of the photos, a person’s hand holds their own polaroid photo. Robison included a photo of himself in the collection, pictured above, which will be displayed alongside other portraits at Key City Theatre and provide information about the artist (Gillian Francis photo)

In each of the photos, a person’s hand holds their own polaroid photo. Robison included a photo of himself in the collection, pictured above, which will be displayed alongside other portraits at Key City Theatre and provide information about the artist (Gillian Francis photo)