When B. Proud (aka Barbara Proud) first started taking photographs of same-sex partners for her “First Comes Love” initative in 2009, Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act were the law of the land. Five years later, with her book as well as an exhibition and a documentary of the same name soon to debut, the out fine-arts photographer and adjunct professor at the University of the Arts has seen the landscape shift dramatically for LGBT couples locally and nationally.
“The point of the project was to honor the relationship that I had and those in the community who also had relationships like mine that weren’t recognized and didn’t have rights, as well as try to educate people who didn’t understand,” Proud said. “And that is still my goal. It was fortunate in a way that the political landscape changed so quickly when it did in 2013. It made me put the pedal to the metal. I felt like I can’t wait any longer, I have to put out this book right now. I had a long list of people who wanted to be photographed and I just didn’t have any more time to get to them.”
At first, Proud intended to only feature couples that have been together for 20 years or more.
But the volume of couples eager to get involved shifted that focus.
“That changed pretty quickly because there were so many couples who had been together between 10-20 years,” she said. “When I looked at the demographic, the people who had been together for 20 years were an older generation and I wanted to make sure to appeal to a younger audience as well, to tell these younger couples that you can be in a relationship that lasts that long. But other than that, there wasn’t a vetting process. There was no, ‘Oh, you’re not good-looking enough, you’re not sexy enough.’ Most people were delighted and really wanted to do it.”
She did work to make sure the couples represented the full diversity of the community.
“[Diversity] was a big goal of mine. I wanted to make sure I represented all of the consonants: the Ls and the Gs and the Ts and the Qs, and as many colors as I could. I wanted to make sure that the community was fully represented.”
Proud presents the photographs in “First Comes Love” in black and white to break down the stereotypical rainbow imagery often associated with the community.
She said that what started as a project focusing on same-sex relationships has in many ways captured a pivotal moment in LGBT history.
“I set out to do this personal project not knowing exactly where it would end up. The result is now I have an incredibly historical document. I have the Proposition 8 couples, both of them. I have Edie Windsor. I have Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen. I have Bishop Robinson. I have a lot of people who are very prominent and still alive in our community right now at this historical moment. I think having all that gathered together in one volume is a good thing. Historically, it’s going to be a great thing to have around.”
The University of the Arts hosts an opening event and book launch for “First Comes Love” featuring a live performance of the “First Comes Love” theme song by Michael Biello and Dan Martin, one of the couples in the project and book, 6-9 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Hamilton and Arronson Galleries, 320 Broad St. The exhibition runs Sept. 26-30. For more information, visit www.bproudphoto.com or www.firstcomeslove.org.