Chosen Family Portraits Celebrates Queer Vancouver

A community-based photography project for gay and lesbian Vancouver.

Credit: Lydia Millett

Chosen Family Portraits exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver explores what family means to Vancouver’s gay and lesbian community


The Vancouver Queer Film Festival and the Museum of Vancouver have teamed up with Options for Sexual Health to create a unique community-based photography and oral histories project.

Chosen Family Portraits


Museum of Vancouver, 1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver


Until Sept. 30th, 2011




Chosen Family Portraits, showing at the Museum of Vancouver now until September 30th, celebrates the chosen families of gay, lesbian and transgender Vancouverites through a series of candid portraits.


The idea stemmed from the oftentimes-turbulent relationships that the queer community might have with their blood relations, and the new chosen “families” they create as a result.


“These stories are just as relevant and vibrant as the stories we’re seeing on the big screen, and I started thinking, ‘how can we capture these on film?’” says Amber Dawn, Director of Programming for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.


What better place to do this than the Vancouver Queer Film Festival? 


“I’ve been attending the film festival for years and it has become a great location for people to start telling stories. Film is a great medium to provoke memory,” says Dawn.


Picture perfect: a modern twist on the family portrait

You can choose your friends, but who says you can’t choose your family? (Image: Museum of Vancouver)


At last year’s festival the vivacious and talented duo of Sarah Race (photographer) and Sarah Buchanan (radio journalist) set up makeshift photography booths at various theatre venues and invited festival audiences to drop by and pose with the people who meant the most to them.


Over 120 participants (28 families) smiled for the camera and were filmed telling their stories; the collection includes young newlyweds, best friends, lifelong lovers, mothers, sons, neighbours and more.


“Portraiture is rare in the queer community,” Dawn explains. “It’s just starting and there are a lot of issues there, particularly the idea that portraiture is something of a nuclear family medium unto itself. Sarah is a groundbreaking photographer in the community that she captures.”


Images of families bound by unconditional love (framed in hot pink)

A series of family portraits, captured by photographer Sarah Race. (Image: Lydia Millett)


The large black and white images, hanging in vintage style hot pink frames, are a stunning representation of the modern and diverse families that populate our city.


“It’s really important for people to see all types of families: queer families, single-parent families, any kind of family that expands the idea of what a family can be,” says Dawn.


Every picture tells a very different story, but one thing remains the same: the people in each frame consider themselves family—not in the traditional sense, but born through support and unconditional love.


The video footage that plays around the exhibition is funny, heartfelt and at times a bit of a tearjerker. One woman recalls the day she met her wife, another shows a group laugh as they share how they came together at a “pants optional” book club.


Two well-dressed elderly gentlemen talk about being together for 25 years and finally marrying last year; a group of girls jokingly explain that they’ve known each other since they were “teeny tiny baby dykes,” and another participant laughs as he explains the dynamics of his chosen family: “We’re all sassy and we’re all bitches.”


Raising awareness for the history of gay rights in Canada

Celebrating chosen families and gay rights in Canada. (Image: Museum of Vancouver)


Freedom to be yourself is a theme that runs through the exhibition. As another participant puts it: “There’s a particular sort of comfort and safety that I feel with my family that is very important to me… these are the people who I am able to share all of myself with.”


If you don’t get to the exhibition, be on the lookout for the images in and around the city at bus stops and on lampposts, which are set alongside fascinating historical facts about gay rights and freedoms in Canadian.


The portraits, Dawn explains, make visible a more personal aspect of that particular history.


“It allows us to see the people whose lives are made more safe, more comfortable, more dignified and more loving because in Canada we do celebrate human rights, and we’re still working on it.”