‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ photography project continues as military leaders mull lifting gay ban

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A Los Angeles photographer’s ongoing project to document gay military personnel has been gaining media attention ever since it launched late last year. Now the photographer has published the first in a proposed series of volumes featuring his intimate portraits.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Volume 1’ features 17 uniformed men and women who are closeted in their professional military careers. The images were taken by Jeff Sheng, an L.A.-based photographer who is taking time to travel the country to meet with subjects for the project. Sheng said he plans to release a second volume in March.

In addition, a gallery show of some of the images is scheduled to open in L.A. in September. The exhibition will take place at the Kaycee Olsen Gallery.

The release of the first volume coincides with recent statements by some of the country’s top leaders expressing the desire to repeal the ban on openly gay service personnel.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday he would be launching a review into how the military would possibly lift the current ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. The review could reportedly take up to a year to complete. His announcement comes the same day that Adm. Michael G.Mullen, chairman of the joints chiefs of staff, said repealing the ban was ‘the right thing to do.’

Sen. John McCain quickly criticized the statements. He was quoted as saying that he is ‘deeply disappointed’ and that the study would be ‘clearly biased.’

Last week, President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he planned to work with Congress and the military to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

Sheng said his photography project will continue as the government continues to mull its options regarding gays in the military. So far, he said, he has logged 30,000 miles traveling the country to meet his subjects, many of whom learned about the project by way of the photographer’s website and a November story in The Times.

In the portraits, the subjects wear their uniforms, but their faces are concealed. Sheng also asked them to choose a name and a location of some personal significance to use for the titles of the photographs.

Here are more images from the first volume of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

‘Catalina, New York, New York, 2009'

‘Craig, Baltimore, Maryland, 2009'

‘Glynn and Celine, Fort Worth, Texas, 2009'

‘Mike, Boston, Massachusetts, 2009'

-- David Ng Top photo: ‘Mark, Savannah, Georgia, 2009.’ Credit: Jeff Sheng / Kaycee Olsen Gallery

Credit for all photos: Jeff Sheng / Kaycee Olsen Gallery