In 2009, Adam Bouska put a face on marriage equality with his charitable NOH8 Campaign. The photographer’s silent protest has morphed into a global mission to advance causes dedicated to ending discrimination.
Your now-viral NOH8 campaign began in response to the passing of Proposition 8 in California, which temporarily banned same-sex marriage. A lot of progress has been made since the movement’s inception, with two-thirds of the country now allowing same-sex marriage. Why is it still important for Americans to support NOH8? Ultimately, we started it in response to Proposition 8, but we’re not just a marriage-equality movement, we’re an anti-discrimination [movement]. And at the end of the day, even in areas where we’ve seen marriage equality pass, discrimination still exists. So it’s important for people to still get involved. Discrimination affects us in so many different ways.
Did celebrity involvement really help to launch the movement on a national scale? Celebrities definitely created something relatable for a lot of people, and from different areas—we have different sports figures, different political figures, people from all different backgrounds showing that they can support this. And I think that’s important, to show that you don’t necessarily have to be on one side of the field or one side of the spectrum to be a part of this campaign. It truly involves everyone and it can affect people in different ways. Celebrities … had their own reasons why they wanted to get behind this; it affected them or they had family members that it affected. So I think ultimately, yeah, the use of celebrities is extremely important.
NOH8 is also about open photo shoots in communities across the country. How do people react? [My partner] Jeff [Parshley] and I both come from small-town areas … So when we’re able to travel all over the nation—and not even just the nation, we’ve been to 19 different countries now—to reach some of these areas, the people are super appreciative just to be a part of it and to be able to share their voice and to be a part of something, and I think that truly inspires us to keep going. And we wouldn’t be continuing to go to these areas if the communities didn’t request us being there. It’s a community-driven effort and we’re really doing it for them.
The portraits very effectively symbolize a silenced voice. It’s quite a striking image. I think the great thing about it being an art project, though, is that everything is open for interpretation. We’ve seen people come in with their own ideas on how NOH8 speaks to them. It’s really been great to see how that has started the conversation. And for us, being a part of that conversation and getting that dialogue started, that’s what’s important.
Throughout the life of the NOH8 campaign, what has been your most proud or memorable moment? It’s been an awesome experience to be able to photograph over 45,000 people for this campaign today, but ultimately, it comes down to the individual moments. Memorable moments like in Atlanta, when we had the opportunity to photograph a young child who was able to come forward and pose with his parents’ marriage license. The whole room erupted in applause and, for us, that really put the campaign into action. We saw … a community [coming] together to support this young individual, and he was proud to stand there. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t see [that]. … Moments like that make this all worth it.
NOH8 Open Photo Shoot March 5, 4-7 p.m., $40 solo shots, $25 per person for couple/group shots, benefitting/happening at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, 401 S. Maryland Parkway, noh8campaign.com.