LET’S MEET UP WITH…STEFAN JORA

Stefan Jora won the third prize in the ’Documentary’ category with his photo series ‘The Gay Families Project’. Stefan is a San Francisco-based photographer with significant experience in photojournalism. Since 2009, he’s been travelling all over the United States, documenting LGBT parents and children for a photobook called ‘This American Dream’.
 
Tell us more about your photo project. What is the idea behind ‘The Gay Families Project’?
 
The seed for the project was planted after a fortuitous encounter with a gay rights activist who wanted to do a book about same-sex relationships, which was meant to show how the relationships of gay couples are no different than those of straight couples. While I was compelled by his idealism, I wasn’t quite sold on the idea. But it made me start thinking about homophobia, which was at that time a pillar of conservative political discourse in the US. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that homophobia was in great part fuelled by a deeply engrained human fear: the fear of mortality and the intrinsic desire for the preservation of the human species through future generations. Thus, the thinking went, “how could it be human to be homosexual if they cannot have children?” The book then became in part an attempt to answer such a cynical question. During this time, I was also becoming deeply dissatisfied with photojournalism practice, which I felt was characterized by sensationalism and shallow simplification of its subjects that bordered on propaganda. Then, one day, I heard an interview with playwright Tracy Letts, and a statement of his stuck with me, becoming my mantra for this photobook project: “It’s harder to create something that’s life-affirming than something that is cynical.”
 
What is the experience of being “on the road” documenting rather intimate aspects of the life of so many American families?
 
It is both thrilling and very challenging. While it is great to meet new people and learn about their lives, with each new encounter I felt the arduous task of having to start anew, because each person is different and it takes time to get to know someone. With some people I could only spend an hour, while others I ended up seeing for weeks. Many of them opened up to me during the process and granted me more access into their lives, while others didn’t, even after repeated meetings. As a matter of fact, due to time and financial constraints, I was possibly more successful in documenting those intimate aspects in the lives of families living close by than of those I met on the road. But the United States is such a vast and diverse country, and the tradition of being “on the road” is so embedded in the American psyche, that I felt I couldn’t have said something relevant about what it means to be American if I had not at least attempted to experience it.
 
Would you say that gay families are still a sensitive topic in the USA?
 
My understanding is that the idea of LGBT people raising children is more contentious in other parts of the world right now, including in Europe, than it is in the United States. I approached several news media but they turned my photo story down because they did not consider it newsworthy. I would say that today’s American homophobes are more against allowing gay people to follow their sexual orientation than seeing them as unfit to be parents.
 
What are the main stereotypes about gay parents?
 
I think the main stereotype is that gay parents will imbue their children with the culture of “gayness” that has traditionally been presented in the media — that image of topless men who have promiscuous sex and live on the fringes of society. In fact, it can be argued that gay parents have much more in common with straight parents than they do with gay people who have no desire to have children.
 
Interview by Claudia Vendrik
Read more about the project on https://www.facebook.com/TheGayFamiliesProject
 
 
The Gay Families Project © Stefan Jora
 

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Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.

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