Q&A: ‘Gay in America’ photographer Scott Pasfield

(CNN) – New York photographer Scott Pasfield released his first digital photography project in the book, “Gay in America,” last fall. With a mission to educate and destroy stereotypes about being gay, Pasfield spent three years traveling 52,000 miles across the nation to document the stories of 140 gay men.


“I hope that people see this project for what it truly is and know that it is perfectly normal to be gay,” Pasfield said. “And it comes in many shapes, colors and sizes.  And that life would not be the same or nearly as beautiful without us.”

Here’s what Pasfield had to say about the project.

CNN: What inspired you to take on this project?

Pasfield: First and foremost I started this project to make a difference.  I wanted to make a book that I wished existed when I was a kid, one that I could learn about the realities of being gay and what my options were.   I wanted to reveal the truth about the wonderful gay men in this country and I wanted to share that knowledge with the world.  I think there is a tendency to unjustly stereotype gay men in a negative way that is perpetuated by many and that cycle really needs to stop.  I saw this book as an opportunity to do my part in taking my gifts and using them for some greater good.

CNN: What were the biggest challenges you faced as you embarked on this project? What surprised you during this journey?

Pasfield: As I started the project, getting people to believe in me was not difficult. I have a nice website, with lots of celebrity portraits, so most of these guys thought it a great opportunity to have a pro come take their picture.   I was amazed at how honest and beautiful everyone’s emails were. I learned an incredible amount by just reading the thousands of replies.  And I chose men first and foremost based upon what they wrote.  I had always planned on editing the emails for the text to accompany the photos.  In that respect, the book wrote itself.  Secondly I considered other characteristics and tried my best to include as much variety as possible, based on age, race, occupation, religion and political opinion. I thought there should be as many different types of gay men as possible.

I find that the challenges on the project have only changed and actually grown for me since the book has been released.  I feel that the real work begins now, not only having to convince people of the books merits and worth, but to get its message out that being gay is normal, that you can live a happy fulfilled life in this country.  Not only gay boys and men will benefit from this book, but also their parents, family and friends.  I want them all to know that everything will be fine, that life can be wonderful and fulfilled and complete.

CNN: Do you have a favorite portrait from this compilation? Why?

Pasfield: C’mon, really? That is easy. My favorite is the shot in the introduction of a handsome man named Nick Barletta with his partner – me.  This book would never have happened without his support. Thirteen years together and still madly in love. I must have done something good in another life to wind up with Nick.  That picture is also the last one I took for the book. That makes it pretty special, too.

CNN: How did you arrive at the title ‘Gay in America?’  In what way do you identify with this theme?

Pasfield: The working title for me through the years was “Gay America.”  That is how all of my files were labeled. When I made my sample book to shop around to publishers, I changed the name to “Scott Pasfield’s Gay America” because it was never supposed to be the definitive collection on “Gay America,” but rather, what I had found. In many ways, it was an experiment to see what would happen. It was my gay America.  When I did find Welcome Books, the title was shortened to “Gay in America” and I lost top billing.  After all, I was no Avedon, and to sell a book with an unknown author’s name as the title didn’t fly.  But I could live with the addition of “in,” as it no longer was saying it was the collection of gay men. These men were simply “Gay In America.”  I liked it.

It is a shame to me that there is no word exclusive to gay men, like “lesbian” is for homosexual women.   I used the word “gay” because it defines all homosexual men.  I didn’t feel it necessary to change the working title of my files to “Gay Male America” just to appease others.  Nor did I for the book.   There are many sub-groups to the LGBTQ rainbow and I believe each should be studied independently and are worthy of their own volume.

CNN: How do you think this book will impact the way homosexuality is discussed culturally and politically?

Pasfield: I am hoping that it gets people talking in the first place.  Sparking debate of what it means to be gay is awesome.   Talk about ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ marriage equality and drag queens and cowboys.  Let’s have a conversation about gay parenting, religion and politics, and how they fit into all of our lives.  I hope that parents can take comfort in this book and use it as a tool to open up that conversation with their kids.

CNN: Why did you decide to focus on gay men in America? Do you think you will ever continue this project for lesbians in America?

Pasfield: As an artist, screenwriter, novelist, or any creative person knows, starting with yourself is often a great way to conceive a project.  I used the internet to find my subjects in every conceivable way I could think of to reach people, but it worked because I was a gay man looking for gay men in online communities that were set up for us.  I soon realized the power of actually being part of the world I was trying to photograph.   I tried putting my ad up for lesbians in lesbian chat rooms, but if you want to see an ad flagged/deleted quickly, that’s how you do it.  I would have had to masquerade or hire someone to connect me to women.  And that is something I did not want to do.

I would love nothing more than to do “Lesbian in America.” I feel compelled to do it.  I am ready to step out of my world and at least try. I hope I can convince the same team to make that book.  There will always be people who will say that a gay man can’t and shouldn’t do that project, but I simply disagree with that now, after doing “Gay in America.”  It’s all about getting goosebumps from people’s stories, making friends and taking great portraits.  Why not me?  I think it is very possible and I welcome the challenge.

CNN: Can you share the way you mapped out your journey across the nation?

Pasfield: I started close to home and plotted out trips based on who wrote [to me] and where they were.  I used my car and drove to most places, covering as much ground as quickly as possible. When I tackled the West Coast and Alaska, I found cheap flights and rental cars, and would drive like a mad man for two weeks. For Hawaii, I brought my partner and we combined the shoots with a vacation.  It was a great way to celebrate the last state for the book.

CNN: How did you find the diverse group of 140 men you decided to include?

Pasfield: I always let the stories help me decide who to include and was looking for goosebumps through emotion.  I wanted them to be strong on their own.  I advertised pretty much online in every conceivable way I could think of and asked people to think of their friends if they wanted to forward the ad.  Once I started the ball rolling, I tried to vary the men as much as possible, in terms of their age, race, etc.  It only made sense to me.

CNN: Is there a story behind the cover of your book?

Pasfield: I had a couple of men in the services write to me about their desire to be a part of the project, but ultimately they changed their mind.  At the time, it would have involved coming out in a major way, if the book did get published, and none were ready for that.  I ended up meeting Dan Choi after I finished the initial 50 states and was in the process of looking for a publisher.  One thing led to another and I convinced him to take part.  We scheduled the shoot for a February day up in Cambridge, where he was staying. I googled the address and looked at the house in satellite view and saw the neighborhood.  I knew I would shoot him out on the street at that moment.  The neighborhood was very “all American” looking, historic and real at the same time.  And the publisher had asked for more winter shots.  I nailed it all in that one shot. And it only seemed right to put the soldier that fights for us all on the cover.

By Nina Raja, CNN
Source – CNN