Steven Laxton Brings Voice to LGBT Refugees In New Show
American politics is on fire and moving at a blistering pace, it’s hard to pay attention to anything else. But for Steven Laxton, the moment that precipitated this chaos, the 2016 election, was a wake-up call to see the horrors happening on the other side of our borders. “I was very disgruntled and confused about the election and Trumpism and all the xenophobia and sexism and racism that transpired,” says Steven. “I realized that I rather than just post disgruntled posts on Facebook and go to a few rallies, I have a craft that can tell stories.” He started creating projects around immigration and came across Immigration Equality, the leading LGBTQ immigrant rights organization. Once he started hearing their stories, a whole new perception of what it means to be a refugee opened up for him and inspired his project “Free To Be Me,” on view at The LGBT Center in New York starting today.
“It occurred to me that I didn’t really think about this enough myself,” Steven explains. “When I think about refugees I think of people seeking political asylum or economic asylum or people fleeing from war zones. It’s not often you think about LGBTQ asylum but there’s over 70 countries in the world where it’s illegal to be gay basically. Some of the stories are horrendous so I realized this was something that was worthy of doing.” Steven sat down with a host of LGBTQ refugees to get their stories and act as a conduit for us to meet them, understand them, and recognize the injustice happening all over the world. Things aren’t perfect in the US, but they’re good enough that for many, the US is an escape and a step towards living a freer and fuller life.
It’s not just about facts and figures, as appalling as those are. It’s about the humanity behind those numbers and the absurd laws in other countries governing what is and what is not okay about being an LGBTQ person. “It’s important for people to know the stories and where they come from,” says Steven. “There’s one gentleman from Egypt who’s an architect. He went out on a date when he was younger with a guy, they just kissed, the cops saw him and he was locked in prison for three months only because he was a minor. If he had been older it would have been five years.” He was able to come to the US and build a new life here, a more honest life, and contribute to his new community here.
Check out Steven Laxton’s “Free to Be Me,” presented in cooperation with the LGBT Center and Immigration Equality, is on view starting November 14th and running through the end of the year.
Steven Laxton Tours New York With the People
There are a few truisms about New York: the speed, the lights, the diversity. But beyond that, New York changes every few blocks. Each neighborhood has a unique identity which is amazing if you’re looking for new experiences or can be overwhelming if you’re new to the city. “All the neighborhoods in New York a really unique, I used to feel like I was traveling the world from neighborhood to neighborhood,” says photographer Steven Laxton. “There’s a personality that everyone knows, and some of those people are really inspiring community leaders, and some of them are just on the street and if they weren’t there you wouldn’t feel at home if you lived in that neighborhood because you get used to seeing their face around.” Steven was inspired by this collection of celebrities who are sometimes heroes, sometimes the hearts of their communities, and sometimes unsavory figures that just happen to be who is best known. So he’s been photographic these Neighborhood Celebrities in a series, almost as a collection of figures to understand the unique collection of places that make up New York City.
It began by researching these folks online as much as he could, but pretty quickly he and his team found that the more they were able to find these people through word of mouth, the faster everything came together. After all, these celebrities exist as pillars of their communities, so it would be their communities who would best reveal their own leaders. “It’s actually been a lot of fun, meeting these people, they’re all fascinating people,” says Steven.
Steven is originally from Australia, but he’s made his home in a few NYC neighborhoods over the last few years, and part of the fun of this project has been finding the celebrities of his own communities. One of them was Eshete Woldeyilma, the Cat King of Columbia, originally from Ethiopia whose face is very familiar to Steven. “There’s a homeless gentleman who lives on the Columbia waterfront and he used to go around the corner from my house every day. I used to see him all the time,” says Steven. “He’s a lovely guy, a refugee actually, and I think he’s had a bit of trauma. He fled the war and lost all his family there, but he sees it as his job to take care of the stray cats there and he thinks if he’s not there they won’t be looked after.” Woldeyilma is a reminder that every resident of New York lives a unique life and even if we don’t notice those around us, others are. We are all small pieces fitting together into each other’s lives, creating a diverse and complex puzzle. Steven’s images a glimpse of the boldest colors, but set the foundation of the palette for everyone.
B&A's Seven American Photography Winners
Each year American Photography releases their compendium of images from the last year that they found to be most arresting. This isn’t an award delivered to a photographer for the work they did that year, instead this is given to particular photographs regardless of who was behind the camera or what else that photographer achieved that year. Each image is chosen for what fits between the edges of the image, without the drag of reputation or expectation.
This year, nine images from seven B&A photographers earned the distinction to be featured in AP32, the thirty second collection of these accolades. Please join us in congratulating Chloe Aftel, Jamie Chung, Tara Donne, Marco Grob, Steven Laxton, Joe Pugliese, and Michael Turek.
Chloe Aftel’s attention grabbing shot was for Billboard Magazine. Shot on location at Ms. Brownstein's home in Portland, the image was paired with a short interview. The Portlandia star and Sleater-Kinney rocker offers a dozen looks at her characters through her creative ventures, but catching Carrie at home is something her fans are always hungry for. Chloe’s portrait shows us the woman behind the characters and music, displaying a quiet readiness that exudes with the creative generosity we’ve come to expect from her.
One of the biggest stories from this past year has been the incredible rise of Donald Trump as a political figure and how he’s galvanized a section of the American electorate. Jamie Chung’s incredible visualization of this stratospheric rise graced the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a unique image that saw Mr. Trump as a balloon. Jamie was particularly careful with how the placement of the balloon in the composition of the image. Balloons rise and fall, but it’s up to you to decide where Trump’s balloon is in its journey.
This fall Tara Donne shared with all of use her recipe for Hazelnut Pumpkin Tart and it caught enough attention that AP had to include her photograph in AP32. Don’t let the sumptuous look of the dessert fool you: this is for all of our friends, including those who are gluten free. Tara’s ‘Wild Apple’ project is an ongoing online magazine that proves a gluten free lifestyle isn’t a taste-free lifestyle, and invites you to find out for yourself. Dig in!
It’s been half a century since the Beach Boys recorded ‘Pet Sounds,’ but the story of the band’s front man, Brian Wilson, will live on in infamy. His complex past is the subject of the upcoming biopic ‘Love & Mercy,” and the subject of a illuminating portrait by Marco Grob for Variety Magazine. Marco’s image finds the musician in a haze, considering the piano keys at his hand, opening a window for us into a private moment before his story becomes ever more public.
Kathoey cabarets are a popular tourist destination for travellers in Thailand. The ‘ladyboys’ that perform are one of the country’s brightest international delights, but under the glitz and glam is a highly choreographed puzzle that keeps the theaters running and holds the hopes and reams of the performers. Steven Laxton got access backstage to the world that supports this movement in a series of images that was featured by The New Yorker.
Joe Pugliese has three different photos featured in AP32 this year.
When he sat with Christopher Walken for a Saturday Night Live anniversary issue of The Hollywood Reporter, he found a man so at the top of his game that Joe was merely an audience for what Christopher had to offer that day. And it was exactly what Joe wanted.
His portrait of Dr Dre came as a part of a Beats cover story for Wired that examined the history of the brand from its inception to its acquisition by Apple and how it operates under its new identity. The unique story allowed Joe to explore color and play with light in new ways.
Leading up to the Oscars, Joe sat down with six A-List actors to discuss the state of Hollywood and where they fit within their craft. Samuel L. Jackson brought with him his signature energy that thundered through the portrait session, delivering the Sam Jackson the public has come to love. But there was one moment of stillness that Joe was able to capture, catching Jackson in a unique instant and catching AP’s accolades.
As athletes feel called deeper towards nature, open water swimming has taken off all over the world. Michael Turek teamed up with a group of mataeur swimmers who take a five day aquatic trek over twenty miles of ocean that separates the British Virgin Islands. One of Michael’s images for this commission by British Airways High Life was tapped for AP32.
Steven Laxton and the NFL's Heroes for Bose
When the NFL partnered with Bose last year, it represented an interesting shift in the way that America’s largest sport listened to music. It was a huge move on a huge stage, and who better than Bernstein & Andriulli newcomer Steven Laxton to help tell the story of this new partnership? For their latest campaign, Steven teamed up with Bose and the NFL to show off Bose’s new line of products with their spokesmen Russell Wilson and JJ Watt. "We wanted these images to look three dimensional with the Bose product coming towards the lens,” Steven explains. “There was actually quite a bit of lighting involved to create this depth of field. We had to shoot it in stages to get the hands and bodies of the athletes, and the product all together.” It presented a fantastic technical challenge that Steven and his team were ready to tackle.
These images are huge technological challenges, but JJ and Russell are busy guys and only had a limited amount of time. So Steven and his team spent a significant amount of time prepping and testing their set ups so that when the players arrived on set there wouldn't be any surprises and they could be super efficient and let the players get comfortable on set. As Steven explains, their challenge was "making sure it was a well oiled machine before they arrived so we could get those images.” Time was limited so they arranged the entire process to maximize every moment with Russell and JJ, and it paid off.
All of Steven's work has an epic, heightened energy to it that translated perfectly to a project that featured the stars of America's biggest sport. "Most pictures I take I try to make really dynamic and larger than life. For this project the shots needed to be heroic, they're almost like statues,” Steven says. “These are big characters that people watch every weekend. There's a hero-like status that football players are given.” Steven served up that status, pairing them with Bose products, giving us the stars we watch every weekend in the way we imagine them to be. A heroic challenge in its own right.