The Identity Project

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Sarah Deragon is a professional photographer living in the Bay Area. Typically specialising in LGBTQ family photography and not so corporate headshots, her photography business Portraits to the People has been up and running since August 2012. 

Recently, Sarah set up a personal project titled “The Identity Project,” which is a visual exploration of self-identity within the Bay Area’s LGBTQ community. 

Speaking with 429Magazine, Sarah told us what the project was about and why it is so important. 

429Magazine: What is The Identity Project about?

Sarah Deragon: The Identity Project is a visual exploration of the myriad people who belong to the LGBTQ community in the Bay Area and the words they identify with when defining their gender and sexuality. 

429Mag: What was your motivation behind the project?

Deragon: I wanted to put real and beautiful images of LGBTQ people out there into the world. When I was coming out, I longed for imagery that helped make sense of the feelings and attractions that I was having and I hope that a genderqueer teenager in the Midwest struggling with their identities would find solace or be inspired by these photos. 

It’s empowering to see people who look like you or identify with the same words you do. I want people to connect to both the images and the words. A lot of people are having conversations about identity that they might not have had before, and I love that.  

429Mag: Is there a specific message you’re hoping to portray through your project? Are you hoping to inspire any change through this visual representation of the LGBTQ community?

Deragon: The message that I’m hoping to portray through the project is the power of naming oneself. For so many people in the LGBTQ communities, our bodies are deeply connected to our politics and it’s really powerful to see someone standing up and saying that they are queer or trans or bisexual in a photograph. I think that the participants in the photographs are incredibly brave to share their identities with the world through The Identity Project! 

429Mag: Has your message or ideas changed so far whilst meeting the people you’re photographing?

Deragon: My ideas about the power of naming oneself have only become stronger through working on this photo project. So many participants from the project have told me that when choosing their terms, they’ve engaged in conversations with their loved ones and friends about identity and that it’s been very complex and enlightening at the same time. Folks filling out the form have expressed relief that they get to put a face to these terms they see being thrown around in the media. 

Choosing terms to identify oneself can be incredibly powerful and I love that I’m able to add something to the larger LGBTQ visibility conversation. This project is meant to spark conversation and have folks question why they choose certain terms to identify themselves. 

429Mag: Are there any other particular projects, be it photography, film, or books, that helped inspire your vision for The Identity Project?

Deragon: I worked at Frameline, the largest LGBTQ film festival in the world, for several years and I was incredibly inspired by how it feels to see yourself represented on screen. I always admired the filmmakers for sharing their stories and The Identity Project is my opportunity to share my gift, photography, with the community. 

I was also inspired a lot by three photo projects: Femmes of Power by Ulrika Dahl and Del LaGrace Volcano; BUTCH photo documentary by Meg Allen; and GayFace by Ashley Kolodner. 

429Mag: What are your long-term plans for the project? Is it currently open-ended? 

Deragon: It started off as a 3-month project, but because of the tremendous response I have received, I’m going to be doing photos for The Identity Project for all of 2014 for as many people as possible. I pick three days each month to dedicate to shooting for the project, but also fit people in throughout the week while I operate my own business. On average, I have been shooting about 30 to 50 per month.  

429Mag: Are you hoping to expand it further than the Bay area? 

Deragon: Yes! I am currently looking to travel next year. My dream list as of now is: New York City, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, London, Paris, and Berlin. 

429Mag: Do you have any ideas forming for future projects or is one enough for now?

Deragon: I think a project focusing on LGBTQ couples or families is going to be super important to me in the near future. People really respond to seeing images like this and so many participants in the project have families/partners that I’d love to focus on them a bit more.

429Mag: What’s your favourite place to shoot in San Francisco?

Deragon: I’m pretty fond of shooting in my studio because it is in my home. But other spots that I just love shooting at in San Francisco are Hayes Valley, the Mission, Golden Gate Park, and Baker Beach. San Francisco is really one of the coolest places to be a photographer because it is so freaking beautiful, I’m inspired all of the time! 

429Mag: What is it that got you interested in photography to begin with?

Deragon: I’ve always taken photos of things, but a few years ago, a friend asked me to take a not so corporate headshot for them and it kind of just took off from there. I really enjoy doing portraits and my ability to build rapport with folks and make them feel comfortable has had a huge impact on the success of my business. 

Having a high quality photo of yourself that you just love is super important in today’s society because everyone has a website or blog or social media outlet to use them on. A photo is usually a person’s first impression of you online, so you might as well make it a good one!  

429Mag: In what ways has your background in social justice education helped define you creatively as a photographer?

Deragon: I think the most important thing I learned was how to see overlapping systems of oppression and how that can play out on people’s bodies. The Identity Project is a celebration of individuality while also being attentive to the ways in which some of us are more visible than others. There’s an inherent social justice angle for most when viewing the photos in The Identity Project and that’s wonderful, but what is most incredible to me is to be witness to how the participants in the project, and I, have been changed through this experience. 

429Mag: How do people become a part of The Identity Project? 

Deragon: To become part of The Identity Project, folks can go to the project’s website and apply! I’m currently booking people a few months out, but I will get to everyone that responds by the end of this year. I am currently researching crowd-funding campaigns because I hope that The Identity Project will become a book later on!

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