The photography campaign that has spawned nearly 6,000 photos of celebrities and every day people with duct tape across their mouths and “NOH8” painted on their faces began two years ago in an L.A. apartment at about 3 a.m.
Photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley, were devastated when California voters approved Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, in the November 2008 election. The two men felt silenced in their home state and wanted to do something to protest Prop 8.
“It was natural we come up with a plan to use photographs … this was on everyone’s mind and we were looking for ways to get involved,” Bouska said in an interview from his L.A. home as he prepares for a Jan. 16 NOH8 photo shoot in Atlanta.
Several days after the vote, Bouska and Parshley, who is also a model, were snapping photos with Bouska’s camera and an idea struck them.
So at 3 a.m., the couple went to a Rite Aid Pharmacy and purchased a roll of duct tape, two bottles of Crayola paint and Q-tips.
“We felt like victims of hate. We felt a majority was voting on the rights of a minority — we felt silenced,” Parshley said.
Hence, the duct tape to symbolize being silenced.
And during the November 2008 photo shoot in their living room, Parshley went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror to paint on the “NOH8” slogan with the Q-tips.
Unfortunately, Parshley failed to consider one thing.
“I thought it looked great on my face and came out and Adam looked at me and said, ‘That’s not going to work,’” Parshley said.
Thanks to the mirror, “NOH8” was painted backwards.
But after fixing the painting and then putting on the duct tape, Bouska photographed his partner of two years and together they co-founded the NOH8 campaign.
“We left it very simple,” Parshley said. “Adam and I wanted to focus on … the features being different and forcing you to look at the person’s face.”
The initial idea was for people to use these photos of themselves in white shirts with duct tape over their mouths and NOH8 painted on their faces for social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace.
But the photos caught on as more than just something people wanted to post as their Facebook profile picture.
“It definitely was unexpected,” Bouska, who takes every photo himself, said of the popularity of the campaign. “It just happened in the heat of the moment. But I think it says a lot about our community.”
Celebrities join the effort
Bouska and Parshley then started approaching “influential faces” for the campaign and were greeted warmly by celebrities wanting to participate.
“As we gained more visibility, more celebrities started coming to us,” Bouska said.
And the celebrities keep coming. Bouska has photographed such stars as lesbian “Glee” star Jane Lynch; Oscar winner Marlee Matlin; “D-List” star Kathy Griffin (holding her two Emmys); Meghan McCain (daughter of Sen. John McCain, who vehemently opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”); Sen. McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain; DJ Tracy Young; Bravo’s Andy Cohen; gay actor and funnyman Leslie Jordan; and, yes, the Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Bouska has also captured the images of Lt. Dan Choi wearing his military fatigues as well as other gay members of the military.
And while the celebrities raise awareness, it’s really the ordinary people who are making changes in their communities every day who are the real focus of the campaign, Parshley said.
“A lot of people say to us, ‘Why are you only photographing celebrities?’ But every day people are the real foundation — 90 percent of the photos taken are every day people,” he added. “It’s just the celebrities are the ones being published.”
The campaign’s website has several albums — two albums dedicated to “familiar faces” while thousands of other photos are dedicated to every day people who want to make a statement. And, if you look closely in the albums, you can catch a couple of Georgia celebrities, including DJ Vicki Powell and Derrick Martin, the gay teen from rural Cochran, Ga., who made national headlines when he took his boyfriend to his high school prom.
“We like to hear their stories — that’s what’s so good about open shoots like the one we are having in Atlanta,” Parshley said. “All these people have the same belief and want to speak out.”
Atlanta gay pastor: NOH8 can help city heal
The NOH8 campaign comes to the W Midtown Atlanta Hotel on Jan. 16, the day before the national holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.
The person responsible for bringing Bouska and Parshley to Atlanta is Rev. Josh Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church.
The victim of a hate crime last July in Piedmont Park when he was robbed at gunpoint by a group of teens who told him they should beat him up because he is gay, Noblitt has focused his energy on bringing healing to himself — and the city.
“We have been wanting to come to Atlanta for awhile and Josh reached out to us on behalf of Saint Mark,” Parshley said.
Bringing the NOH8 campaign to Atlanta during Martin Luther King Weekend was a “no brainer,” Parshley added.
And, if Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, there is no doubt in Bouska and Parshley’s minds that he would gladly participate in the campaign.
“This [photo shoot] is one day before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday so going back to his home town was a no brainer for us,” they state on the Facebook event page for the Atlanta visit. “We think he would be at the shoot if he were with us today.”
Noblitt, the social justice minister at Saint Mark, said spearheading this effort was one way to deal with the emotional fallout from being attacked because of who he is.
Joining Noblitt to bring the campaign to Atlanta are Carlton Mackey from the Emory Center for Ethics and Nikki Noto, with V-Day, a global movement that works to end violence against women and girls.
Noblitt views the photo shoot as a way for the city to heal, and “transform hate into love as part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.”
For Noblitt, justice in his case is slow going. A preliminary hearing was held in December but was delayed until mid January. The teens arrested in his assault are being charged as adults.
“I’m trying to make larger sense of what happened to me … as part of my journey to healing,” he said.
Top photo: Top: Adam Bouska and partner Jeff Parshley pose in a creative ‘NOH8’ photo shoot (top). Familiar faces who have participated in the campaign include (left to right) Jensen Atwood, Amanda Bearse of Atlanta and Lt. Dan Choi. (by Adam Bouska)