Artist, Photographer, Sociologist
Jeff Sheng is an internationally recognized photographer, artist and sociologist, whose work over the last 15 years documenting the LGBT community has been described as “poignant” and “historic” by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Leonard Pitts, Jr. Sheng began his photographic career documenting the contemporary LGBT rights movement as a college student at Harvard University, where he received his BA degree in filmmaking and photography in 2002.
In 2003, Sheng started “Fearless,” a ten-year long photo series on “out” high school and college athletes who are open about their LGBT sexual orientation or gender identity to their coaches and teammates while still competing in high school or collegiate sports. Since then, he has photographed over 160 “out” athletes, while concurrently exhibiting and speaking about the “Fearless Project” (FearlessProject.org) at high schools and colleges around the country. To date, he has spoken about and exhibited the work at over eighty different venues, including the headquarters of ESPN, Nike, and the NCAA, numerous college and high school campuses, and also the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
In 2009, Sheng began his photo project on LGBT U.S. military service members who could not be open about their sexual orientation due to the discriminatory laws known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Using various lighting and cropping techniques, Sheng obscured the actual faces of these LGBT service members so their identities were not fully revealed yet were still portraits of those being discriminated against. These iconic photographs became part of the public debate around the issue and were widely featured in the media, including in the NY Times, LA Times, CNN, NPR, the BBC, ABC World News Tonight, and the CBS Evening News. Sheng’s photographs were also widely circulated among government officials, including top policy makers and military officers in the Pentagon.
Other projects and assignments have included photographing marriage equality advocates Mary Bonauto and Evan Wolfson for a 2004 New York Times Magazine feature about the first legal same-sex marriages in Massachusetts in the United States. In 2008, Sheng also worked with former NBA basketball player John Amaechi on a blog for Amnesty International about the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Sheng’s work has been nominated multiple times for a GLAAD media award, most recently in 2013 for Outstanding Digital Journalism Multimedia, and he was named an Advocate 40 under 40 in 2011. His artwork is also part of the Sir Elton John Photography collection, among others. He has taught as a visiting professor in photography at Harvard University, as well as at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as a Lecturer in Studio Art and Asian American Studies between 2007-2012. Sheng holds an MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and is currently a PhD Candidate in Sociology and Point Scholar at Stanford University.
Jeff Sheng's poignant images of LGBT folks in the military prior to the repeal of DADT.