Don't You Want Me?
All about the international LGBTQ rescue dog photography project.
I’m so excited that this month I’m getting to share with you an amazing new global photography project the “Don’t You Want Me?” which is showcasing the beauty and resilience of disenfranchised LGBTQ people and their rescue dogs! Has there ever been a project more aligned with my interests? Probably not! The Don’t You Want Me or DYWM project is the brainchild of Jack Jackson and Deb Klein. They are currently photographing LGBTQ people and their rescue dogs in rescue dogs in Toronto, Brooklyn, and Brighton, UK!
For full transparency, my dog Charlotte and I will be having a photoshoot with Jack and Deb when they photograph in Brooklyn this fall. My rescued dog Charlotte started her life homeless on the streets and has gone-on to become a Champion Trick Dog and most importantly has completely transformed my life in so many. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to share her story through this project. I am so excited about the Don’t You Want Me project, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Jack and Deb to learn more about their work uplifting LGBTQ people and rescue dogs:
Sassafras: Can you tell me a little bit about the "Don't You Want Me?" project?
Deb: DYWM is a brand-new photography project, which documents and celebrates individuals and families identifying as LGB, trans and queer, and their transformative bonds with their rescue dogs. It is starting out on the web (website, FB and Instagram) with subjects initially in Brighton UK, Toronto and NYC, but will be branching out to other parts of the world and culminate (hopefully) in a series of books, exhibits, and more TBD.
Sassafras: How did you get the idea for "Don't You Want Me?"?
Jack: I think the shared vision was fairly clear from the start. It was always going to involve the idea of rescue and it was always going to show how resilient and absolutely beautiful those who were rescued are. I think for me, it comes from a deeply personal place. My dog rescued me, it’s that simple.
Deb: Jack and I connected online via our mutual admiration for each other’s work! The more we spoke, the more we realized how much fun it would be to collaborate on something. We didn’t have that ‘something’ in mind at the time but knew it would involve combining our interests: photography, dogs, animal rescue, and the LGBTQ community.
Sassafras: What do you hope the "Don't You Want Me?" project will accomplish? Where will the pictures go?
Jack: I want people to read the narratives accompanying the image. I want them to see the real human impact of homophobia and transphobia. Queer and trans people don’t struggle because they are queer and trans. Queer and trans people struggle because of discrimination. Ultimately, I want to tell a story about connection, about how we all thrive on both being loved and giving love. I would like the images to be displayed in dog rescue centers and LGBTQ centers in each city we document. We also intend to have an exhibit in each city and ultimately it is hoped that the project turns into a photo book
Deb: Really, I think it can accomplish a number of things that will arise as we go along. I think we both really hope – with simple visual storytelling - to help change the public’s perceptions of those people and animals who they have always dismissed as ‘troubled, different, evil, sketchy, dangerous’ – practically non-sentient beings. Images and stories of people from the LGBTQ community who have struggled in their lives, and their bond with their rescue dog, will illustrate the strength of love, and how it’s helped both human and dog to survive and to flourish – and to show it is universal and beautiful, and common to all.
Sassafras: Can you talk a little bit about how you perceive the connection between queer folks and rescue dogs?
Deb: I would say two ways I can think of right now, but I know there are more. ONE: both suffer on a daily basis with negative perceptions, mistrust and cruelty. and TWO: very often, dogs become the kids that most queers’ folks can’t or choose not to have. This latter reason can connect with the question above, where we can show that this IS a normal family, just like straight folks with human kids
Jack: I’ve always had dogs, I don’t know if it’s a queer thing, but I guess we are likely to have animals on a greater scale than our straight counterparts. Some queer people simply end up without family and it can be absolutely devastating - emotionally, financially, really in every way possible, but dogs bring that sense of family, or certainly for me they did. I think everyone agrees that rescue dogs thrive given stability, patience and love - they thrive in a family. Family, it seems, whether chosen, given, or canine is what binds us.
Sassafras: What are your photo shoots like?
Jack: My aim is to have whoever I’m shooting feel really relaxed - that certainly can be a hard thing for me to feel with a stranger, but it’s crucial. It’s not always easy being vulnerable or exposed with a complete stranger - as a photographer, someone is trusting me with their story - it’s a very intimate thing. I never want to break that trust. We send the client an ‘interview’ prior to the shoot so that we have the backbone of their story for the project. We ask them to choose a location for the shoot that holds value to them and their dog. Everything is about being comfortable, form clothing to location. We’ll spend the first 30 minutes or so chatting and start the shoot only when they are ready.
Sassafras: Can you tell me a little bit about your own dogs?
Deb: I’ve had two rescue dogs thru my adult life. In between them (Harpo was my first), I fostered many – probably about 25 or so of varying lengths of time – when I was also working for a rescue organization in Brooklyn. My girl Casey is now about 10 years old (I rescued her 5 years ago), is a pitbull mix, and is a truly loving and chill soul. She is teaching me patience and generosity by example, and I’m forever grateful.
Jack: I was having the worst year of my life, I really wasn’t in a position financially to get a dog, but a good friend gave me a number and told me to call it like my life depended on it. It really did. And I did, that day. Jet Jackson bounced in to my life a year and a half ago and changed everything. I’m not from Canada, so she’s my family here. I’ve built my job around her - and my tattoo collection! Jet’s like me, she has a lot of energy, always needs to be moving, and normally, at least, once a day she gets so excited that she can’t contain herself.
To learn more about the Don’t You Want Me project and find out how to be photographed with your dog visit them online at: http://www.dontyouwantme.com/
Sassafras Lowrey is a straight-edge queer punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Sassafras’ books—Lost Boi, A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack, Kicked Out and Leather Ever After—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner, and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com