I interviewed Jeff Sheng in March, when his book Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, was coming to the attention of the country. His work will now be on display at Kaycee Olsen Gallery, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90034, beginning at 5:30 p.m. today, September 18 to October 23.

This show coincides with the release of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Volume 2.  Sheng received the Photo District News Award and International Photophraphy Award this year for this body of work. Gallery site is http://kayceeolsen.com/artist/view/1926

Here’s a recap of what I wrote on digiphotomag.com:

Photographer and Los Angeles native Jeff Sheng has taken on the plight of Mike, John, David, Natalie, Rico, Alexander, Craig, Matt, Jess, Anthony, Harold, Charles, Mark, Catalina, Nick, Kenneth, and Glynn and Celine—just a handful of the estimated 65,000 LGBT soldiers serving their country today. Another million are gay veterans. He has produced a book of photographs depicting gay members of the military.

One husband of a gay soldier serving in Iraq wrote in an email to President Obama, “The day he deployed, I dropped him off far from his base’s main gate, and he walked alone in the dark and the rain to report for duty. Where the rest of his buddies were surrounded by spouses and children at mobilization ceremonies, he stood by himself.”

“I wanted to bring light to this incredible injustice,” says Sheng. “This is open discrimination by a government founded on the equality of all.” About two soldiers a day are being discharged for being gay. This, as Sheng says, when we need trained and talented soldiers more than ever.  “We’re losing medics, linguists, highly trained soldiers. When you’re lying somewhere injured from battle, you don’t care if the person saving you is gay, straight, nothing. You only want to live.”

And the penalties for admitting to being gay is brutal. In addition to being banned from ever again serving in the military, this from an email in the book from the Legal Defense Fund: “the service member’s DD214 (discharge paperwork) says on it ‘homosexual conduct,’ which is significant because many future employers will ask for that paperwork…” In addition, they have to repay any bonuses and costs of education at a service academy like West Point, even if they’ve been in the military, 10, 15, 20 years.

One has to ask, how can this be?

Sheng asked just that, beginning this project at the urging of many who viewed  his previous project, “Fearless,” a collection of portraits of openly gay high school and college athletes that toured the country with more than 40 exhibitions. Sheng took out two lines of credit and began his self-financed, worldwide trip to photograph the soldiers who asked to be part of the project, to bring light to the great risks they were taking by doing so.

Here are more details from the Gallery on Jeff’s show.

September 18 – October 23, 2010

Saturday, September 18

                         – 5:30 to 6:00 pm – Artist Talk and Walkthrough

                        – 6:00 to 8:00 pm  – Reception                         

Kaycee Olsen Gallery is located at:

2685 S. La Cienega Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90034

Kaycee Olsen Gallery is proud to present the first solo exhibition of photographer Jeff Sheng’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” series from September 18 to October 23, 2010. On Saturday, September 18, Sheng will give an Artist talk and walkthrough from 5:30 to 6:00pm and an opening reception will be held from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Both will be open to the public.

The exhibition coincides with the release of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Volume 2, a 100-page, full color publication, featuring the portraits of over forty closeted U.S. service members. Personal accounts of experiences in the military are also shared by a few of the individuals in the book. The foreword is written by Patrick J. Murphy, a U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania and a former Captain in the 82nd Airborne division, who introduced the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal bill into the House of Representatives.  It also contains essays by discharged veteran Major Mike Almy, and celebrated LGBT activist David Mixner.

This exhibition will be the first ever to feature the photographs of service men and woman currently affected by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which mandates the immediate discharge of those persons in the United States military who are allegedly or openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The show will feature 20 previously unseen images, which see the artist breaking away from the statically posed photographs of Volume 1. In these works, Sheng increasingly activates and dramatizes his subjects, further illuminating the unique and charged personal narrative behind each portrait.

To create each work, Sheng uses lighting and shadow effects to mask part or all of his subjects faces and asks each to provide an alias and place with personal meaning for the title of the work. In doing so, he protects and emphasizes their anonymity. The photographer elaborates, “Ultimately for me, these photographs underscore the silence permeating the unsung heroism of gay and lesbian military personnel. The photos are about the men and women who continue to fight and serve despite the heartbreaking invisibility they suffer.”

Within the last year, the work has been featured by The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Time magazine.  In addition, veteran news journalist Bob Woodruff conducted an extended interview with Sheng and a few of the service members featured in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” series for ABC World News with Diane Sawyer.

In addition, highlights from Jeff Sheng’s “Fearless” series will be on display in the back project gallery. This body of work focuses on gay, lesbian and transgender high school and college athletes.

For additional inquiries, please contact the Kaycee Olsen Gallery at 310.837.8945 or info@kayceeolsen.com. For book purchases and further information on the artist, consult the gallery website http://kayceeolsen.com/artist/view/1926