Don’t You Want Me Project – a photo project documenting the transformative power of love
By: Jack Jackson
With Pride month just behind us, we thought it was extra important to talk about how we should celebrate diversity all year round in the pet parent community. So, when we caught up with local dog walker and photographer, Jack Jackson to talk about their social impact project Don’t You Want Me, we thought it was extra important to share this amazing work with our community.
What is the Don’t You Want Me project?
Don’t You Want Me (DYWM) is a global documentary photography project showcasing the beauty and resilience of LGBTQ+ people with their rescued dogs. Coupling compelling images and personal narratives, DYWM shows that individuals, of all stripes, have the ability to transform their lives when they are given love. It is through this love that the question of ‘who rescued who’ becomes universal, no matter how you identify. Get Leashed readers can learn more by visiting our website at dontyouwantme.com.
Where did the idea to start the DYWM project come from?
My project partner – native, New York portrait photographer, Deb Klein who is now living in Brighton, UK – reached out to me about a year ago to ask if she could blog about my dog photography. I was flattered, but thought that it was me that should really have been learning from, and writing about her. One of the questions she had asked was when was I going to publish my first dog photography book — an idea I initially just brushed off.
I hit it off straight away with Deb. I found out that her best friend had been my tattoo artist when I’d spent time in San Francisco, and that she had relatives who had lived in Guernsey, the small island that I am from. We just clicked! I trusted and respected her. She’s smart, fiercely independent and badass, and the more time that I spent with her it seemed that the nagging question about the book just wouldn’t go away.
The collaboration just evolved naturally, as an extension of our friendship. We found that we both loved photography, but our perspectives were just different enough to come together and create something truly unique. So we decided to combine each other’s experiences – my flying dog photography, my involvement in the queer and trans community, and how I overcome the hardest year of my life, and Deb’s love of portrait photography and her work in the dog rescue world.
We heard the launch party on Trans Day of Visibility was a huge success – what’s next for the project?
At the launch party people were brought to tears by reading about some of the subjects’ experiences. A jarring reality when considering that our initial participants live in the most progressive cities in the world when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. We are now actively fundraising in order to take the project to other cities in Europe and North America.
You’ve called DYWM a social impact project – can you expand on that?
I think one of my frustrations is that outside of queer and trans circles, many people simply don’t understand why life can get so desperate for people – particularly the further outside of hetero-normative spectrum they fall. There’s a mixed reaction when I tell people that 43% of trans people attempt suicide. I’ve stopped caring that some people find hearing that uncomfortable. I find it uncomfortable that this is the statistic and very little is being done about it. Most people are shocked and appalled that this is the case. Most people want to help, but I’ve also had people ask ‘why should I care’ or even more ignorantly profess that, ‘they’re just feeling sorry for themselves’. The fact is, trans people are happy being trans and even celebrated in some cultures. DYWM shows there is nothing inherently wrong with being queer or trans, but there is something very wrong with a society that stands by and does nothing to change its outdated views about us and in doing so leaves us at risk.
The project shows what happens when LOVE is taken away – by discrimination, hate and ignorance – and how people flourish when it is given back. Queer people simply need the same things as everybody else – love, purpose and family. For many reasons, queer people can end up living outside of the typical family structure and it’s easy to see how dogs might provide that sense of family. Many of our participants to date are trans individuals and it is their voices that have been traditionally silenced. Now however, their stories can ring loud and act as a powerful and resilient force for teaching society how discrimination and gender inequality harm us all.
The Don’t You Want Me project is currently seeking LGBTQ+ subjects in both Toronto and Brighton, UK. The rescue dog(s) must have had (and/or still has) a significant transformative effect on the participant’s life. This element is hugely important, and forms the whole basis of the project – and subsequently the images and the accompanying narrative.
Don’t You Want Me documents a global community. Deb Klein and Jack Jackson – both photographers and believers in the human-animal connection – use the photographic lens to capture the intimacy and emotional heartbeat of the bond and entice the audience into the lives of their subjects. Currently in Toronto and Brighton, UK, this ongoing photo project (and ultimately book) reaches out across borders from North America, Europe and onward.
The DYWM exhibit will be on display until the end of July at the beautiful and sunny Tom & Sawyer in Toronto, Canada.