250 MC Research : Jeff Sheng

Jeff Sheng (born 1980, Santa Barbara, California) is a U.S. artist, activist and photographer based in Los Angeles. He teaches photography and Asian American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His artwork is represented by Kaycee Olsen Gallery in Los Angeles.

Sheng is most notable for his photographic series “Fearless”, which are portraits of athletes on high school and college sports teams who also openly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. He began photographing the series in 2003, and in 2006, began exhibiting the work at colleges across the United States as part of FearlessCampusTour.org, a self-made endeavor to widely exhibit these photographs in nontraditional art venues such as student centres and collegiate gymnasiums so that large groups of college students could see the activist project and think about the way misurany adversely affects society, particularly in sports.

From 2006-2009, “Fearless” was seen at over thirty colleges across the United States including Yale University, Columbia University, Rice University, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Florida, Indiana University, and Dartmouth College. In 2008, he had his first exhibitions located in high schools. In October 2008, the sports media network ESPN invited Sheng to exhibit “Fearless” at their headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, and in July 2009, Sheng had his first international solo exhibition of his work at the L.G.B.T. Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. In October 2009, Sheng was awarded a grant by the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation in British Columbia to expand the photographic series to include athletes from Canada, and “Fearless” will be exhibited at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Sheng’s other continuing art projects include “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “Revolutions of Memory.”

In 2009, Sheng began photographing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, a series of portraits of undisclosed people still serving in the United States military who are affected by the controversial Don’t ask, don’t tell policy banning homosexual people from openly serving in the U.S. armed forces. In January 2010, Sheng published the first photography book on the issue, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Volume 1” coincidentally days before President Barack Obama gave the 2010 State of the Union Address.

“Revolutions of Memory” is a series of large panoramic digitally constructed images, that deal with history, identity, location and trauma. One of the pieces includes a forty foot wide by six feet high image, taken from the spot and vantage point where the misuranistic hate crime/murder victim Matthew Shepard was found on a fence post outside Laramie, Wyoming.

In August 2008, Sheng collaborated with former N.B.A. basket-ball player and fellow activist John Amaechi in Beijing, China during the 2008 Summer Olympics, on a blog in partnership with Amnesty International. Amaechi utilized Sheng’s knowledge of Mandarin and experience in Beijing to get behind the scenes in many situations and to gather candid interviews with local people and Olympic athletes.

In September 2009, Sheng created an award winning multi-national gallery tour entitled “Hipsters In The US of A”. This intriguing and thought provoking gallery provided insight into the phenomena of Hipster culture in America. Sheng has since been a guest lecturer at Boston College Law School on the topic of intellectual property law as it relates to photography.

Sheng attended Harvard University and studied under the mentorship of British photographer and Harvard professor Chris Killip in the Visual and Environmental Studies Department. “Thesis Album”, a small photo album consisting of sixty 4″ by 6″ photographs and half a page of writing, was his summa cum laude undergraduate thesis that Sheng submitted to Harvard in 2002 for his BA degree. In 2002 and 2003, Sheng interned for gallery owner and art collector Bill Hunt in New York City, and then briefly assisted for the celebrity/fashion photographer Greg Gorman in Los Angeles. In 2004, he photographed Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto for The New York Times Magazine’ for an in-depth article written by David J. Garrow about the struggle over the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and the United States.

While at first influenced by the snapshot technique of personal documentary portraiture found in the work of Nan Goldin, Sheng’s photography has been noted to have a “distinctively Los Angelean flair – think warm colors, sprays of light and blue skies – and an aesthetic that looks to find beauty in the intimate and personal.” Others have also compared his work to Richard Avedon and Bruce Weber, and more recently, August Sander and Rineke Dijkstra. In the credits for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Volume 1”, Sheng cites the influence of Larry Sultan and Josef Koudelka.

Sheng received his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Studio Art from the University of California, Irvine in 2007. He was a recipient of a Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship in 2004 and a Paul and Daisy Soros New Americans Fellowship in 2005. He was also part of m LA 25, a group of L.A.-based young artists collected and curated by the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Jeff Sheng’s work really interests me, all his images that I enjoy are from when he photographs the genders, he really shows emotion in to each photograph from the way in which the people have been photographed, the lighting that has been used to photograph capture the people, also it makes you wonder more about the photograph as some of the people look away as they do not want to be indentified in the photographs, from the job they do they don’t want others to know. This hidden emotion makes each photograph more interesting to look at as you never know the interesting way in which the person has been photographed or whether they desire their identity to be shown for the world to see, the way in which they say how they feels adds more of an attraction to the photograph. It does make me sad looking at the photographs though, because these people should be who they way to be and not be judged by others.


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