I first heard about Jeff Sheng's incredible series of portraits of queer members of the US Armed Forces in an article in Wednesday's New York Times. Sheng photographed closeted members of the Armed Forces in portraits that show their uniforms, but obscure their faces. This is his second LGBT themed photo project. He has previously shot "Fearless" a collection of portraits of out LGBT athletes in high school and college. The contrast between the two projects is deeply affecting. In "Fearless" the athletes make eye contact with the viewer, engaging and challenging them. By necessity, the Don't Ask Don't Tell portraits show straight-backed men and women turning away from the camera and hiding their expression.
Sheng's photos are even more affecting when they are pared with a photo essay in this week's New York Times Magazine. The magazine features a series of photographs of the empty bedrooms of soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. The images are sobering, making the abstract loss signified by flag-draped coffins heartbreakingly personal, as you look at a room filled with particular posters and books, carefully chosen by someone who will never return. Remembering the risk that queer servicemembers willingly take on, we should be ashamed of ourselves for dishonouring their sacrifice by forcing them into the shadows.