Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America

Molly Landreth
Molly Landreth
Colleen in Her Dorm, Oakland, CA. 2004

In 2004, photographer Molly Landreth began a project documenting the diverse lives of queer Americans. Collaborating with filmmaker Amelia Tovey in 2009, the two traveled across the nation, producing portraits and multimedia displaying the varied states of LGBTQ life in America. LightBox spoke with Landreth and Tovey about their hopes for the project, which now consists of more than 80 portraits and 18 short films.

Why did you start Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America, and what do you hope will come of it?

Molly Landreth, Photographer: I have always used photography as a way to understand my place in the world—for the last 15 years that world has been the queer community. When I first picked up a camera I immediately began by creating intimate images of my cousin and his friends dressing up in drag, getting ready to go dancing in West Hollywood. Coming out shortly after that, I turned the camera on myself, creating a series of self portraits with my girlfriend as we dared to imagine what queer life looked like in the small farming town where we were raised. It was several years later, with this same curiosity and fondness for photographing friends, family and loved ones, when I turned the camera around once more to create a large scale survey of LGBTQ life in America. My reason for embarking on such an expansive endeavor was simple: I was hungry for images of lives to which I could relate and I wanted to represent adequately the creative communities I saw all around me. Between 2004-2008, I made over 60 portraits of queer individuals and couples with my vintage 4×5 camera.

Realizing after 4 years that I was missing a critical component of the story, I invited my friend, filmmaker Amelia Tovey, to create a series of short films which would allow the individuals in the portraits a chance to speak for themselves. In turn, the viewer would gain a deeper and broader understanding of these inspiring and complex people. We traveled throughout the “Bible Belt” of America for one month in 2009 and met some of the most amazing and brave people we could ever imagine.

Over the last year, we have been working to create a new website for the Embodiment Project. A culmination of these 8 years of hard work, EmbodimentUSA.com will be an online exhibition that features new short films and a re-launch of photographs with personal statements intending to give new voice to the images. Content will be released weekly beginning this month. It is my hope that this project will serve as an inspiration in and out of the queer community, and remind us all that there is immense strength in believing yourself, being “different” and being visible.

Amelia Tovey, Videographer: Molly took a tender, candid portrait of me at the age of 22 at a time when I was really starting to identify as queer. I kept in touch with Molly and followed the progress of Embodiment as the archive grew over the years—when Molly needed a videographer, I came on board immediately. The journey around America and the act of making these films, have both been deeply personal opportunities to navigate the complexities of my own identity against a shifting cultural climate.

Molly Landreth is a Seattle based artist who explores concepts of identity and community through large-format photography and multimedia collaboration. She is a contributor for the New York Times Magazine and OUT Traveler and has been featured on NPR and The Advocate. Landreth holds an MFA in photography, video, and related media from the School of Visual Arts.

Amelia Tovey is a New York-based Australian filmmaker whose work focuses on documentary realism, social commentary and live musical performance. Between 2009 and 2011, Amelia produced, directed, filmed and edited 18 short documentary films for Embodiment. She is the co-founder of Shoot The Player and has produced over 100 short music films with artists across Australia and the US. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Film Theory and a Master’s in Screenwriting.

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