For Laura Albers, a family photo is a powerful thing.
Sometimes it’s a window into a particular moment, other times it tells the story of a particular day—but most of all, according to Albers, family photos show the depths of the individual members who are in the photo, displaying all that makes them relatable and unique.
“This photo project will showcase the beauty, the joy, the connections, and the love that is present for all the individuals in each family,” Albers said. “It will help demonstrate that despite some families looking different than what we traditionally are expecting, they belong here and they deserve to thrive here.”
The photo project, officially titled We Are Family, is the passion project of the Central Coast Pride director and is set to be displayed at The Bunker art studio in San Luis Obispo during the entire month of June.
Albers worked alongside photographers Rebida Campbell and Summer Truschke to take and compile photos of multiple families with LGBTQ-plus members from across the Central Coast.
“We have families represented from every part of the Central Coast,” Albers said. “Whether that’s from North County, SLO proper, out on the coast, Santa Maria, and even north Santa Barbara.”
Each family represented in the gallery has two different styles of photos displayed. Campbell’s photos are traditional black and white portraits, and Truschke’s are more colorful candid action shots, which Albers explained are meant to showcase the family doing an activity or in a place that makes them the most comfortable.
“Gosh! We got a lot of great photos of these families,” she said. “Each of these shots is something that spoke to us.”
Albers told the Sun that she came up with the premise for We Are Family after seeing all of the anti-LGBTQ-plus legislation that has been passed across the U.S. in 2023.
“We really want to demonstrate that all of these families not only matter but offer so much to the world just like any other family would,” she said. “In a time when they have so much going against them, I think it’s important to remind people these are real human beings being potentially affected by this legislation.”
The family of Cheri Love, for example, felt like We Are Family allowed her family to highlight how their love and acceptance were at the core of their family values and a driving force behind her trans daughter’s acceptance of herself.
“We are ordinary and extraordinary—love and acceptance is a core value of our family,” Love said. “I think that in a world that is trying so hard to erase trans kids, it is important to showcase something like that.”
Love told the Sun that she hopes that the exhibit will show people unfamiliar with the experience how important it is to support LGBTQ-plus youth.
“Anyone that sees the transformation of my daughter’s confidence and how she views herself will see that real positive impact,” she said. “It’s a type of activism we have always wanted to be part of.”
Albers said that she worked with families to ensure they felt comfortable with their images being shown so openly. In that process, she was encouraged by their conviction to be themselves unapologetically.
“Every person in the family had to OK the process,” she said. “When I met with the families in the preliminary process, I was touched by how much they wanted to share what made their families special.”
Matt and Michael Pennon’s family, for example, has always embraced the unique makeup of the individuals in the family.
“We have always been a family that when you look at us, you can tell we are different,” Matt Pennon said. “I’m white, my husband’s Black, we have Latinx and Native American kids, but we aren’t any different really beyond that.”
He hopes that We Are Family will show people that LGBTQ-plus families are doing the same things as traditional straight families, often at the same places.
“We are here existing, we have kids, we have jobs, we might even go to the same church as you, and we go to the same music festivals as you,” Pennon said with a laugh. “We all have the same dreams and desires, so it’s important to say we are here!”
In the case of Lati Murti, the photographs in the exhibition are a matter of shining a light on the LGBTQ-plus members of the families and their literal location.
“From a representation standpoint, it is important,” Murti said. “Not just as a multiracial and LGBTQ-plus family, but also because we are in North Santa Barbara County.”
Murti hopes that the gallery will highlight that LGBTQ-plus families exist all over the Central Coast no matter how far or less talked about the region might be.
“We wanted to participate even though we won’t necessarily be around to see it, Murti said. “It’s here to show that we are here too in North Santa Barbara!”
Ultimately, letting the people of the Central Coast know these families exist is Albers’ goal.
She told the Sun that she encourages people of all backgrounds to visit the gallery, and if possible to bring along a photo of their own family to add to the display and remind themselves that all families—whethere LGBTQ-plus or not—are important and deserve to be celebrated.
“These families bake together, walk the dog at the park together, and go shopping at Boo Boo Records together!” Albers said with a laugh. “These are families that do things like every other family, and they matter.”
New Times Staff Writer Adrian Vincent Rosas, from the Sun’s sister paper, is appreciating the things that make his family unique yet oddly relatable. Reach him at [email protected].