Last year, after a lesbian client said a wedding photographer had rejected her and her girlfriend, Anchorage-based photographer Mitch Kitter and partner Shalem Matthews decided they needed to use their skills and resources to show fellow Alaskans, and the world, that gays and lesbians in love are just like straight couples: they laugh, they fight, they leave dirty socks on the ground, and they deserve to be included in society.
So, determined to change minds and make art, Kitter and Matthews put out a call last year for same-sex couples willing to be photographed, willing to put their love on display. The men, who at the time only knew five other same-sex couples, were astonished by the influx of dozens of applications as dozens were narrowed down to 25. The results are a stunning and effective collection called "Love is Love."
"We conducted 'Love Story' consultations with each of the couples before their shoots asking them questions like, 'What do you do together in your free time;' 'What would be a perfect date?' said Kitter of the shot construction. And it's from those replies that Kitter and Matthews based their shoots, giving the shots an added level of authenticity as shared interests provided each couples's backdrop. One duo spent their free time bow-hunting, another preferred to watch zombie movies, while elderly lesbians Gayle and Julie met playing softball, so they held their shoot on the pitch.
The public reaction to Love is Love was swift and impressive. While Kitter's previous shows have drawn about 100 people, the opening of Love is Love at Kitter's gallery, Treft.Punkt Studios, drew nearly 800. In addition to helping raise $1,000 for the local LGBT center, the show opened up a new dialogue in Anchorage. "One of the most poignant parts of the show was to see friends and colleagues we'd grown up with in the church, and who previously opposed LGBT rights issues, come to the show and tell us how much they loved the images." And that conversation extended online: hateful comments left on Facebook were instantly drowned out by a surge of local support.
As for Alaska as a whole: while the latest polls show less-than-half of the state supports same-sex marriage, those numbers are only bound to shift. In addition to projects like "Love is Love," local and national Alaskan leaders are finally cheering equality. Alaska State Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, recent said he supports same-sex nuptials, and Republican Lisa Murkowski, the U.S. Senator from Alaska, recently wrote, "I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less."
While Murkowski voted on the Defense of Marriage Act in 1998, she says she has learned the error of her ways, "Fifteen years after that vote, I find that when one looks closer at the issue, you quickly realize that same sex unions or civil marriages are consistent with the independent mindset of our state." Her teacher in all of this? Murkowski says her mind was finally made up when she met a lesbian couple raising four children. Love is a powerful tool indeed.
Now, with the initial shots shown and video produced (see below), Kitter and Matthews hope to launch a Kickstarter project that will allow them to travel to other states, particularly ones that still have laws against same-sex marriage, and show that love can found in many forms in many lands. In the meantime, though, they're looking forward to tying the knot next June.