While those who identify as LGBTQ+ can often share a common bond remembering the moment they officially “came out,” the way in which he or she comes out is hardly ever a similar experience. After discovering this through a conversation with a friend, New York Film Academy MFA Photography alumnus Alejandro Ibarra decided that he would dedicate his class project to individuals’ “Coming Out Stories.” His series, in which Ibarra photographs his subjects and asks them to write about their “coming out” experience, has recently caught the attention of BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.
We recently had a moment to chat with the graduate about his inspirational “Coming Out Stories,” his time at NYFA, and what’s to come in his photography career.
Can you tell us where you’re from and what made you decide to attend NYFA’s MFA Photography Program?
I’m from San Diego, CA — although I’ve lived kind of all around the States — and was raised primarily in Mexico. I had been a commercial photographer for about five years, and my knowledge of the medium was strictly technical, so I decided to pursue an MFA because I wanted to broaden my understanding of photography, and to go beyond the technical so that it would enhance my work.
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
I honestly don’t remember ever making that decision or anything; in a way, it sort of just happened. I began taking pictures, portraits specifically, after my brother passed away. This was before smartphones were the norm and everyone had countless pictures and selfies, and we realized we didn’t have a single decent picture of his to use for the funeral. We ended up cropping him out of a family photo that was taken with a tiny point-and-shoot and then blowing it up. It didn’t look great, and it didn’t do him justice, so I decided to begin shooting everyone in my life after that; not in case anyone died or anything, more-so because I think I realized back then the importance and the power of capturing at least part of someone’s essence in an image.
What inspired you to create “Coming Out Stories” as one of your NYFA projects?
The inspiration for the series came after a friend of mine told me about how he came out to his family. My own experience was very different from his, but I somehow really related to it. I realized that there’s an entire community who has experienced this key moment in various ways, and that it would be potentially appealing to other people who didn’t identify as LGBTQ+, because the themes are universal. At the same time, for a final in one of my classes in my first semester, we had to come up with a book project that we were actually going to have printed. The series then made sense to do as a book because of the narrative element of the handwritten text over the images.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of finding your subjects? Was there any pushback or did you find that most people were proud to participate?
At first, I photographed a couple of friends as a way of testing the concept. Once I finalized the aesthetic, I put them out on social media and invited people who wanted to participate. It was all word-of-mouth and social media up until BuzzFeed and other media outlets began publishing articles on the series. Now it’s mainly people messaging me through instagram. There have definitely been several people whom I approached who didn’t feel comfortable doing it, especially now that there’s a larger audience for it on social media.
A few people I had shot over a year ago actually didn’t give permission to appear in any articles because the amount of attention it would receive. The people who did give permission, however, have been as happy and grateful as I am, and it’s been so wonderful seeing their friends and family now saying how proud they are of them.
Would you say your NYFA experience was useful in terms on working on this project?
Oh, definitely. Having critiques when the series was in its early stages was super helpful in terms of figuring out how to get the right look, and how to make the text pop without it being hard to read, and all sorts of details and ideas that might’ve never occurred to me. Furthermore, I was able to pitch the project to BuzzFeed while attending the Palm Springs Photo Festival last month with the school, so the exposure she series has had never would have happened had I not been invited by the school.
Is all of your work this personal?
All of my work is personal, whether in film or still photography, so all of my projects deal with themes of equality and identity, specifically from the Latin-American and LGBTQ+ perspective. “Piece by Piece,” which was my thesis project, was about challenging the terms “non-traditional” and “traditional” families, and addressing the irrelevancy of sexual orientation as it pertains to what constitutes a family. It originated after a series of pro-traditional families (a.k.a. anti-gay rights) nation- wide marches that took place in Mexico last year. It’s currently showing at Bergamot Station in a group exhibition.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you’d like to share with us?
Other than focusing on my celebrity editorial work, my goal right now is to turn “Coming Out Stories” into a book. Furthermore, I want to keep telling stories of real people in real life situations, similar to this project.