Jeff Sheng is an American artist whose photographic work over the last decade has focused on the 21st century LGBT rights movement. His photographs on this topic have been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, Newsweek, the Advocate, and The New Yorker, among others.
Sheng first attained recognition for his photographic series Fearless, a project about ‘out’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes on high school and college sports teams. Since 2003, he has photographed over 200 “out” athletes, and he has spoken about and exhibited the Fearless Project at over seventy different venues, including dozens of college campuses as well as at the headquarters of ESPN, Nike, and the NCAA. The project was just published into a photography book, FEARLESS: Portraits of LGBT Student Athletes, featuring an afterword written by retired NBA basketball player Jason Collins.
Conner, Football, Willamette University, 2014, from "Fearless" by Jeff Sheng
His other photography series "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (2009-2011), features over 80 closeted service members affected by the government policy known by that same name. Sheng's iconic photographs from this project became part of the public debate around the issue and were extensively shown in the media as part of the commentary over its repeal, including in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, NPR, the BBC, ABC World News Tonight, and the CBS Evening News. His photographs of these closeted service members were also widely circulated among government officials, including top policy makers and military officers in the Pentagon, until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was finally repealed in September 2011.
He is currently working on a few new projects. One is tentatively titled, "Before/After," which is a follow up to his previous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" work, where he has been updating the series with new images showing the faces of some of those who are in the earlier "closeted" portraits.
He is also working on a project that deals with LGBT Teen Suicide, where he has been interviewing and photographing LGBT adults who have lived through earlier suicide attempts either as teenagers or young adults. In these portraits, he photographs the subject in a place that has a deep emotional meaning for that person, particularly a place of significance from their teenage years, their suicide attempts, and/or recovery.
Sheng taught as a visiting professor in photography at Harvard University in Fall 2011, and was a Lecturer in Studio Art and Asian American Studies between 2007 and 2012 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He holds a BA from Harvard University, an MA from Stanford University, and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine.
He is currently a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow in the department of sociology at Stanford University, and divides his time between his studio in Los Angeles and Palo Alto, California.
Jeff Sheng at Fearless Project exhibition in the Wooden Center at UCLA, 2015.
Photobook available at www.FearlessBookstore.com
Exhibition of the Fearless Project at Nike Headquarters, 2010
Jess, Bend, Oregon, 2009 from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by Jeff Sheng
SPC Clio Hill, Home, 2010 from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," by Jeff Sheng
Xavier, Falls Church, Virginia, 2010 from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by Jeff Sheng