In 2014, Sarah Deragon posted a photo of herself to Facebook with a caption entitled “Queer Femme,” it was the first step in the creation of The Identity Project, her iconic, queer photography project that seeks to explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality.
What started as a modest goal of photographing 50 individuals depicting their chosen labels, spurred a global phenomenon spanning multiple countries and hundreds of portraits, “I feel like it was a very big celebration, it went viral immediately which was unexpected and exciting. It spoke to my heart, and my connection with these people, how they trusted me with their faces, their representation.”
“If we so choose, we get to be different things throughout our lives, there’s not one thing that we are, from any one period of time.”
Four years later, her project became the inspiration for Harry’s Pride Campaign, putting her behind the camera to help us uncover how eleven participants from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experiences view themselves through the lens of pride, and discover how each are uniquely Proud.
Sarah explains, “This is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me, and to have it come from a random crazy idea I had four years ago was amazing. I think what’s most exciting was just all the love I have for what I do, and the respect I have for the people in the campaign, to come together and be reflected back to me.”
And what’s reflected back is tied deeply to Sarah’s ability to connect with her subjects-to the rawness of their insecurities, and the nuance of their individuality. “I just really try to see people, whenever I meet someone I think about if I were to fall in love with this person, what would be the first thing that I would love about them? What is the most distinctive thing about them?” Deragon explains, as the real beauty of a person comes from that difference. “Getting to know a person in a short period of time it is interesting as to what folks tell me first and most often it is what we all have, [the self-doubt] how we see ourselves and how others see us, getting it all out in the beginning un-complicates [the process], so then we can connect on a heart level.”
Sarah continues, “I’m an English major, I love adjectives, so I will always start a session asking [my subject] what are some words that they want people to think or feel when they look at this photo?” But it’s important to note that these words are always in flux, constantly evolving along with each of us, “If we so choose, we get to be different things throughout our lives, there’s not one thing that we are, from any one period of time.”
“When I first started The Identity Project, I used the words Queer Femme to describe myself, but when I think back on when I first came out I would have probably only used the words Gay or Lesbian to describe myself. And now in 2018, I’d probably use different words again. Language and identity are tied to so many things and I’ve always been committed to showing the beautiful diversity of our LGBTQI communities and have tried to actively seek participants who are POC, trans*, bisexual, youth, elders, disabled, immigrant and otherwise identify as outside of the mainstream gay and lesbian culture.”
One of the most important catalysts for more recent shifts in Sarah’s identifiers is centered around her family-her partner Leslie, a farmer, project manager and activist for LGBTQI families, and their two children. “Meeting Leslie and stepping into the role of a parent has filled up parts of my heart that I didn’t even know needed filling.” Sarah continues, “Parenting is a lot [of] living by example and I feel super proud being part of the LGBTQI community and I hope they’ll be inspired by that. I want these two amazing little beings to have the freedom to do and be whatever they want. I want to inspire our children to stand up and speak their truth, emboldening them to be proud of themselves, our family, and to nurture – I hope – future little activists.”
As for what will always remain intrinsically important to her artistic process, “I don’t want anyone to have mediocre feelings about any of it, about who I am, what I do, or anything related. If you go to my site or see my work and it endears you to me, or you are repelled-I’m okay with it. I want the full spectrum.” Because if you’re not pissing them off, or making them fall in love, you’re not doing your job.