Gay teens and senior citizens come together for billboard photos exploring LGBT identity

A softer side, a more mature side – and a fun and joyous side,” is how subject Jymm Mitchell, 67, describes the two very different portraits of himself that are now the subject of a billboard campaign across Philadelphia.

Mitchell – photographed in one portrait with his eyes closed and the other with his eyes open – is one of several LGBT youth and senior citizens that are part of a Mural Arts Program project aimed at bringing once hidden identities into the light.

All of the pictures in “Showing Face” feature two photographs in this style. That is one of the trademarksof New York-basedphotographerAshleyKolodner’s Gayface,which she brought to Philadelphia for this installation.

The Philly project was developed in conjunction with The Attic YouthCenter for LGBT youth andthe city’s first LGBT-friendly senior housing complex, the John C. Anderson Apartments. Seniors and youthsspent time interacting as part of the project.

“They really motivate me to be myself and be more open and honest with the world,”said participant Shane Miller, 18.”Usually youth talk about their struggles and older folks are pushing us down. Here they’re not shutting us down, they’re in conversation with us.I have people who want to know my story, what youth do nowadays.”

Philly artist Brandon Dean worked with teens at the Attic to create zines and other works that went into a book memorializing the project, with 100 handbound copies printed.

“It started out sharing stories between youth and seniors … about coming out, people they idolize in the gay community, where they find the gay community,” Dean said. “It evolved into finding ways of doing that, whether it was photography or drawing.”

The portraits are up on billboards and bus shelters citywide now through July 15.

But justcrossing the generation gapto bring LGBT youth and seniors together was an achievement, participants said.

“They want to know what it was like,” Mitchell said of his relations with younger participants.”It was rough in those days. Especially being African-American — boy, do you have a couple strikes against you. But when you find your truth, and it doesn’t come overnight — it’s like every day is a sunny day.”

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