A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who helped make this Kickstarter drive a success. If you missed the deadline to donate here, you can still support and stay updated on the project by going to www.FearlessPhotobook.com.
To view the photographs from "Fearless," as well as videos of LGBTQ high school and collegiate athletes talking about their coming out experiences, please visit: www.FearlessProject.org
Special thanks to former NBA Basketball Player John Amaechi who lent his voice of support for this Kickstarter drive as the main video above.
To hear me talk about the project, please view the 10-minute video below that was exhibited at Pride House 2012 at the London Olympic Games, Aug. 3-12, 2012. It's a slideshow featuring over 100 of the images in "Fearless," with my voiceover narrating the work.
Again, THANK YOU everyone for all your support.
-- Jeff Sheng, Sep. 19, 2012
Press and Media Coverage:
Since 2003, I (Jeff Sheng) have been photographing athletes on high school and college sports teams who also happen to self identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ), and are "out" to their predominantly straight teammates, coaches and classmates. Even though I am by training an artist and photographer, this project is highly personal for me -- as I was a former closeted athlete in high school and could not be "out" and play collegiate sports at the same time. As such, I titled the project "Fearless" as it was a reminder to myself and to others the true meaning behind the bravery of what these young people are able to do: be themselves in the face of homophobia in competitive sports -- something rarely ever seen at the professional level.
At first it was very difficult to find willing athletes for the project, but I relied heavily on trust, word of mouth, and social networking to find more and more participants. In the last 9 years, I have been able to photograph over 150 athletes across the United States and Canada for this series. Next year, 2013, will be the 10th year working on this project, and I have decided to commemorate this milestone with a self-published large photography book that details the lives and journey "Fearless" has entailed, including all of the photo shoots from the series. My hope is that this book can serve as further inspiration to countless young people who happen to be LGBTQ and suffer from bullying or harassment and live in fear about being who they are.
My fundraising target of $50,000 will make it possible for me to reach a goal of photographing over 200 athletes and to complete the final self-published book. The entire photo series is shot on medium format film and the travel costs are very high as I often have to fly to many of the athletes who ask to be photographed. Almost everything so far been mostly funded out of my own pocket or through loans/credit cards, and the lack of funding has been a major limitation to the series so far. Many athletes still contact me to be photographed and I sometimes need to limit my photo shoots, as I have never asked these participants for money to cover the costs of their photo shoots, but still need to find ways to cover the costs on my end. This fundraising goal will also make it possible to successfully publish the first run of the photo book next year.
My hope, is that with your help, I can make the decade-long vision I have had for my "Fearless" project -- finally become a reality.
So I have some awesome promotional items to give out during this fundraising drive - and they include something as simple as your name printed in the back of the final photography book in the thank you section, a Nike "Fearless" shirt (see video below), artist proof prints, a commemorative poster, and even my limited edition gallery prints of Fearless.
I also have a very cool suggestion where if you can contribute $500 or more, I will earmark that money to help fund a specific photo shoot as I finish the project. Yes, it actually sometimes costs me that much (and even more) to pay for a single photo shoot as I have to cover all my travel costs, film and film processing - not to mention just to pay for my daily living costs. You can even earmark your amount for an athlete in a specific region of the country. high school or college, of a certain sport, gender-identity, or racial/ethnic group, and I will do my best to match your funds with an athlete that identifies as such. (I get a lot more requests for photo shoots now than I have the funds to complete).
My Previous Photography Projects and More About Me
A lot of people know me for my other project on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" where between 2009-2011, I photographed almost 100 closeted service members who could not be "out" because of the military policy known by that same name. This photo series of mine was widely reported on by the press including features by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC World News Tonight, the BBC, and NPR. I don't want to talk too much about the series here but you can read more about it at the press links below:
I also wanted to use this opportunity to thank these servicemembers for their support of my photography work:
Also, you see my 2008 ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson clip:
The simple answer is that in the last 9 years I have tried repeatedly to get a photography book publisher for the series but have been rejected countless times. The main response I hear is that they want a photography book focused on professional athletes or a "celebrity." Why? Well, this in their minds would drive sales, and a book about "unknown" high school and college athletes won't sell. And in today's publishing world of declining profits, they see my vision as too much of a risk. I however, believe that this book can be even more inspirational than that of one professional athlete - imagine seeing and reading about the photographs of over 200 LGBTQ high school and college athletes who have taken the brave step to "come out" to their teammates. To me, this is absolutely an amazing, inspirational story and I will do whatever I can to see my vision through.
In late September, after the end of this Kickstarter drive and your contribution is charged, an online survey/questionnaire will be e-mailed out to you asking you for shirt size and black vs. white, as well as which image you would like for the 7" x 9" small artist proof, if you indicated that as your reward level. At that time, the the shirts will be reprinted at Nike, and I'll also print a bunch of small artist proof prints to sign - hopefully ready to send out by late October (early November at the latest if demand is really high) as I'll be shipping these out myself with the help of some friends.
I will be working on the final photoshoots, edit, and layout of the book throughout 2012-2013, with an expected printing sometime in early Fall 2013. My goal is to launch the book in October 2013, showcasing all the athletes in the project so far at this time. If you so choose via the notification options, you will receive updates about the production of the book throughout this process. The commemorative poster will also be produced around this time, as I would like it to contain a thumbnail image of every athlete in the photo series, so my goal is to have both of these done and ready for distribution by October 2013.
Yes, I am still photographing: contact me about being in a photoshoot if you are interested and an "out" LGBTQ high school or college athlete. I can't always reply immediately but I try to keep everyone in mind and work something out with my travel schedule. I am not sure after this book comes out in 2013 what will happen. My guess is that I will always be working in some capacity on this project - just not sure what form it will take.
It was in 2002, ten years ago, when I first had the idea of a project on LGBTQ student athletes, but was complaining to a photography mentor about how hard this project would be. I came up with a bunch of excuses: "It would cost too much money..." "I won't find enough "out" athletes willing to be in it..." "It will be too much traveling..."
This mentor of mine said to me, "You are the most fearless 21-year old I know. Don't be afraid of what you can achieve and just go for it." I decided then and there to call the project that - "Fearless" - as a constant reminder to myself of this power and what being that could accomplish.
I have recently been reminded of this quote from the black lesbian/queer writer Audre Lorde: "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."
It's this kind of thinking that drives me and my commitment to this project.
I am currently in the process of working with a non-profit attorney to get 501c3 status for the "Fearless" project and the official approval will hopefully come in October or November. Because 501c3 non-profit status will be retroactive once we get official status, all donations to this drive will be partially tax deductible based on the current tax laws for 501c3 non-profits. After the drive is successfully funded, please look out for a survey in your e-mail where you can indicate the mailing address you would like the non-profit donation record sent to in late December, and also if your company may match your donation. For company matches, I would work with you after the drive is complete to seek the matching funds. Thank you!
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