It is 2015 and same-sex marriage is now legal across the United States.
But in the late 1980s, it was a different story. The gay community was not widely accepted, and couples had to keep their relationships mostly secret.
It was during this period that photographer Sage Sohier set out across America with her Fuji camera to capture gay couples in their homes.
“Viewers were familiar with seeing gay day parades, and other ‘colourful’ aspects of the gay community. What they were less familiar with were the private, intimate moments of a couple’s home life,” Sohier told Business Insider in an interview.
Sohier says the recent Supreme Court ruling was “a very moving moment for me. It’s phenomenal how far the country has come on this one issue, and it’s a humanising moment worth celebrating in an otherwise troubled time.”
Sohier’s photos were published last fall in a book called “At Home With Themselves,” which is available to buy on her website. A selection of those photos are below, along with more excerpts from our interview with Sohier.
Sohier started her project in Provincetown, Mass. in August 1986. She says she started 'approaching couples at Tea Dances, and talking to them about what I wanted to do.' She photographed six couples in Provincetown that first week, and later photographed friends of friends, and placed ads seeking couples in gay newspapers in Boston and around the US.
In addition to the newspaper ads, she also would go to gay parades and gay bars in different cities. 'Once I photographed a few couples in a given city, a whole network of couples emerged who were open to being photographed -- friends and acquaintances of the couples I had already photographed,' she says.
'Couples would give me a tour of their apartment, and I would ask where they liked to spend time together,' Sohier says. 'After that, we would choose a couple of different rooms to make pictures in. People made it clear if a particular room was off-limits, and I told them which environments I was most interested in and why.'
It was important for Sohier to establish a relationship with the couples she photographed. 'I would usually talk to people a few times on the phone before going to meet and photograph them,' she says. 'When I arrived at their apartments to photograph, we usually spent at least half an hour talking before I started to photograph. It gave them a chance to get to know me and to ask more questions about my project, and it gave me a chance to get to know them and to watch their interactions with each other.'
'At the beginning of the photo session we would still be talking a fair amount, and there was usually a fair amount of laughter,' Sohier says. 'But by the end -- once the self-consciousness dropped away -- we were working together intuitively to create something.'
Sohier says she chose to develop the photos in black and white 'because it tends to allow the viewer to focus more on emotional and psychological nuance, and less on people's clothes or their choice of décor.'
A publisher made an offer to create a book of the photos in the late '80s, but Sohier declined since he didn't want to include the interviews she had conducted. 'I said no, since I thought that it was extremely important to provide context for the pictures,' she says.
It wasn't until 2014, nearly 30 years after starting her project, that Sohier finally published the images and interviews together into a book.
Sohier says she felt the interviews were essential, since they allowed her to connect with the couples and also gave them the opportunity to share their experiences. Through the interviews, 'people would begin to understand the many issues that gay and lesbian couples were confronting at the time,' she says.
It was a particularly personal project for Sohier as she says her father was gay, although he never fully acknowledged or confirmed it. He was a World War II veteran who separated from her mother when she was a young girl. Sohier says she and her sister, along with their cousin, came to the realisation together once they were in their early twenties, not long after young men started to replace young women in her father's life.
After realising how much her father had inspired the series, Sohier had lunch with him and his partner, and showed them the images. His reacted emotionally, she says.
Sohier finished shooting the series in 1988. She made some additional portraits around the theme in 2004, but felt they were not the same.
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