Jeff Sheng

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Filed By Jeff Sheng | November 09, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Jeff Sheng, military, photography, politics

For almost all of us, this past week has been crushing due to the results from Maine. Almost an equal disappointment for myself is that I am reminded how President Obama was elected a year ago, and change still seems incredibly slow.

Those of you who are familiar with my work, know that I am an artist and activist, where I specifically use photography to create a dialogue with the straight world about LGBTQ issues. My major project for the last 6 years has been "Fearless," which deals with homophobia in sports, particularly in our high schools and colleges.

About two years ago, I decided that my follow up photography project to "Fearless" was going to be something that dealt with the military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."


It's almost sheepish for me to now admit, but when it became clear that the Democrats were going to win the 2008 Presidential election, I breathed a sigh of relief because it almost seemed that working on a project on DADT would become obsolete - and I put plans to do this on the backburner. This past year though has been this constant game where every time I begin the effort and groundwork into a project on DADT, President Obama or someone in his administration signals that it might be repealed, and then I stop working on it, only to get frustrated, start up again, and then this cycle repeats. I suddenly realized this past week, that essentially, I've wasted a year waiting for the President to act on this issue, when in reality, I should have been just photographing and working on DADT regardless of what the administration signals what they might or might not do.

Learning from my disappointment, I am now full-heartedly working on this project and I'm specifically looking to photograph individuals who are still serving in the US military, who also identify as part of the LGBTQ community. I am photographing them in a way that still obscures their identity (and are then to some degree still closeted), but I'm shooting the portraits in their bedrooms, because I'm interested in the government's policing of these people's private spaces. The project is a difficult one, and I definitely need the support, trust and help of the LGBTQ community to make it into the powerful body of work I believe it can become.

This first image from the project posted here is of a soldier who just got back from Iraq. Next week, I'm traveling to the Midwest to photograph two individuals: someone in the reserves for the Air Force, and then a soldier who was just stationed in Kuwait for the last two years. I decided that unlike most photo projects when you see the finished product at the end, I am going to publish the photographs as I complete them, here on the Bilerico Project so that our readers can see the evolution and progress, and I can keep myself motivated to wholeheartedly push these images to the public as quickly as possible. If you or someone you know wishes to participate, please visit for more information.


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Love the project, but is that first photo really unidentifiable?

Good question Joe.. I forgot to mention in my blog post that the selection of the final image is determined by the subject. I'm photographing this project digitally and reviewing and editing the project immediately after the shoot, and in many ways the final picture selected is the choice of how "out" the subject wants to be in the image. Some of the pictures may be far less identifiable, some more - but in each case, that decision will be of the participant. Thanks for the comment and the question - it let's me explain more of the process.

Thank you for your efforts!!!

I couldn't identify this guy. it doesn't have his name on it, and there are hundreds of thousands of people in the army.

Interesting project.