Nationally recognized photographer iO Tillett Wright drew a crowd Monday night as the Commission for LGBT People and Ready for the World hosted a reception for her at the Clarence Brown Theatre.
Wright made UT her first campus visit to add to her work in progress, a photography portfolio titled “Self-Evident Truths.” Wright’s goal is to highlight the faces of 4,000 men, women, boys and girls from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and, in Wright’s words, “anything other than straight” community across America. Around 150 LGBTQ members flocked to their Melrose Avenue headquarters to have their portrait added to Wright’s collection.
Students and faculty alike welcomed her artistic endeavors, which some believe have an impact on society and the LGBTQ community.
“It puts faces to a group of people that have remained faceless for so long,” Christine Copelan, junior in communications pre-major, said.
Tom Cervone, managing director for the Clarence Brown Theatre and co-chair for the Commission for LGBT People, meandered from group to group at the reception, surveying the results of the months of preparation that he and several others spent developing a successful service for Wright and her team.
“I am pleased and proud to be a part of that and allowing our theater to host it,” Cervone said. “This is an incredibly important movement, and we are really fortunate to have an artist of iO’s caliber, a courageous young person.”
Wright, who deemed gay and lesbian discrimination the “Civil Rights Movement of our generation,” mingled in the crowd juxtaposing her serious cause with her casual demeanor. Although tired from three weeks of constant traveling, Wright still managed to convey the passion she possesses for the people in her photographs, and how she is playing her part in eliminating discrimination.
“If they could see us and look us in the eye, they would have a harder time discriminating against us,” Wright said. “I just happen to be able to take pictures. This is what I know how to do, so this is what I’m going to contribute.”
As reception-goers moved from the Clarence Brown to the Carousel Theatre, Wright engaged her audience with her quick-witted remarks, narratives of growing up in New York City and surprises of the Southern culture, including her pleasant discovery of Waffle House and being called “ma’am.”
Along with her ability to converse comically with her audience, Wright also conveyed the stories of discrimination of some whom she had encountered on her tour of photographs. These stories have only increased her passion in her pursuit of this project, even admitting that she and her team had in a way “marched before they could walk.”
While this project is directed toward the LGBTQ community on campus, Wright clarifies her ultimate intention in her endeavor.
“It’s not a gay project,” Wright said. “It’s a human project.”
Wright and her team have reached 1,415 portraits out of the 4,000 they intend to photograph.
However, while she has capped her goal at 4,000 at this point in time, Wright said that she wants to complete 10,000 portraits to display in museums and exhibitions all over the United States. Her photographs are the beliefs and wishes she has for this community, and she rejects any label except for her self-proclamation as “just a kid with a camera.”