Saturday, April 1, 2023

Local photographer Beth Austin broadens LGBTQ representation with portraits and narrative history

Beth Austin has been capturing Without Apology: Portraits of Pride by photographer Beth Austin. The collection stands out from others not only for how it vibrantly captures unique lives with portraiture, but also for the diverse personal narratives that accompany each photograph. Without Apology features full-color images as well as a selection of black and white portraits.

Without Apology was inspired during the months that followed the 2016 presidential campaign, and its message is more important than ever. After being commissioned by the organization Hampton Roads Pride, Beth was ready to photograph a portrait series of the LGBTQ community in the Tidewater region of Virginia. One day after the presidential inauguration of 2017, she set out from her home base in Norfolk, and took her camera throughout the seven cities of Hampton Roads.

As the national political climate intensified, her process took on urgency. While shooting, Beth says, “I was still continuously looking for subjects. Besides using social media to get the word out, I would approach people in person and through friends.” About one group whose black and white portrait is featured in Without Apology, Beth says, “I tracked them down at a club I knew they would be at one night.” As weeks passed, she had a growing portfolio of portraits that by turns emanated joy, unity, and resistance.

But Beth went further. She talked with each of the people photographed and recorded their thoughts and feelings about facets of their lives: coming out, immigration journeys, faith, military service, and more. Their stories, in their words, are timeless. The result is a collection that broadens representation as it radiates intimacy and courage rarely seen in a collection this size and price.

The collection furthers Honey House Press’s mission to publish narrative histories among its annual roster of titles. Editor Cesca Janece Waterfield says, “I had established the press in part to conduct oral history, especially of underrepresented populations. So when Beth presented this project, I was excited.”

“Stand-alone, these photos radiate inclusivity and empathy, as well as Beth’s technique and artistry,” says Cesca. “But then you read the narratives, and get the disposition of a particular time and place. Those personal stories resonate with humanity.”

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