Typically we write some purposeful introduction filled with deeply moving adjectives displaying our overwhelming admiration and celebrity awe, but that is not the case with this interview. Talking to Adam Bouska, the creator and photographer behind the NOH8 campaign, broke down our barriers of celebrity and fan, realizing that we are all just part of the human experience. In fact, that is exactly what Adam Bouska has accomplished. By looking through the lens and thematically drawing similarities between his subjects, ironically using duct tape to cover their mouths, he has helped us all to see that no matter who you are, the power of love is universal.
1. Tell us a little bit about Adam Bouska, prior to the Hollywood fame, growing up in Decatur, Illinois.
Growing up I was just a regular guy. I wasn’t out in High School. I wasn’t interested in photography yet at the point but I was definitely an artist. I used to paint and stuff. Other than that I would say my life was pretty normal.
2. How old were you when you came out to your friends and family?
I came out to my family, I think it was when I turned 19 years old and I came out to my best friend that same year. I built up a lot in my head that it was going to be this life changing event, which it was, but my family turned out to be extremely accepting. I anticipated for it to be something else, I didn’t know they were pretty open to the idea.
3. Was the process of coming out a difficult experience for you?
I would say that it was definitely a difficult process because I think it was a self-realization. I had to deal with growing up in a conservative area and there really weren’t many resources out there; not much of a support system. My parents weren’t really educated on the whole lifestyle. I was just taking time. I eventually moved to Chicago. I felt it was the closest city to move to from a central farming community. Being exposed to different lifestyles and different communities made me feel more comfortable being having to make the leap to come out.
4. Were you bullied during your teenage years?
I feel like I dealt with all kinds of bullying. I definitely saw that other kids were dealing with it much worth than I was. I feel like everyone dealt with it to some degree or everyone deals with it to some degree. Yeah, I definitely dealt with it.
5. How did your interest in photography begin?
It really was accidental. I was going to college for computer science and I took part in a few of my friends photo shoots that were photographers. I just fell in love with the creative aspect and being in that whole setting of the photo shoot. I just wanted more of a voice and a way to speak out and express myself in my own way. I ended up getting my own camera and started experimenting and photographing my friends and it just kind of blew up from there.
6. Prior to the NOH8 campaign, what was your area of interest as a photographer?
I enjoyed photography in all aspects. I just loved photography in general. Just being a part of any opportunity was great. Combining it with my abilities of Photoshop was fun in the post production aspect, because I have a lot of experience with computers. I loved finding different ways to integrate computers and self expression to show a personal image of photography. Today, I love the human aspect of photography and being able to interact with a person. I started leaning more towards portraiture as I started photographing more.
7. How did the concept for the NOH8 campaign begin?
That was also another kind of accident in my life. I call it an accidental activism because I was never an activist prior to the NOH8 campaign. Essentially when Proposition 8 passed, myself and my partner just partially took part in these rallies and these marches in West Hollywood, and we were really moved by our experience in the marches and by the different people that came out to support that day. All the different faces of all races and ages; it was just a really moving experience. We went home that night and had a photo shoot at 4am in my living room. We started with just the images but ended uploading them online to Myspace. Other people started to see our images and wanted to be part of it and then it turned into kind of a snow ball effect. One face after another and now we’re up to, I think, 20,000 photos now. It’s really growing. It’s really getting an overwhelming response from the community. Now that we have seen the success of what NOH8 can be, we just want to take it and do as much as we can with it.
8. Who have been the three most profound or personally interesting people you have photographed for the campaign?
Yeah, that’s always a difficult question because it’s the diversity, the vast amount of different people. The personality we’ve been able to photograph that’s made it such an amazing experience? If I had to narrow it down I say one of them for me was Jane Lynch and being able to shoot her on the set of Glee was a lot of fun. She has such a huge personality and is so down to Earth and she’s done so much for the cause and the campaign herself in different ways. She helped us raise money by getting the word out and stuff like that. She’s a great person and it was an awesome experience to work with her. I also ended up doing her book cover too. It was really honor to be able to work with her on two different occasions.
Another one, I don’t know his name, but there was this kid at our open shoot in Atlanta who is the son of two moms. He brought his parents’ marriage certificate as his prop for the photo shoot. Being able to photograph him in the moment, I feel like it captured what NOH8 is all about. It was a really moving experience. After he held the marriage certificate up above his head everyone kind of erupted and applauded and cheered. I feel like being in the moment and being able to photograph him in that moment, in that experience, is my most memorable experience from the campaign… I don’t know his name though.
And then I always reference this one; the lead singer of Anthrax, Scott Ian. It was really awesome to be able to photograph him. It was really unexpected because he didn’t plan to come in for a photo shoot. He just jumped in line of an open photo shoot. It just shows the power of how you do what you do to get involved and how everyone has a voice. It was really cool to see him do that and support the campaign. I liked that.
9. Do you believe that “every picture tells a story”?
Yes, definitely. I can’t even count how many stories I’ve heard working on the campaign; some of which we’ve begun chronicling in the BE HEARD section of our website. I think that’s really how the photos stay so fresh for me. Even after 20,000 portraits, each person has their own reason and purpose for posing, and I’m honored to be a part of helping them tell that story.
10. What story does your picture tell?
This is a real tough question. I hate to translate a pose into anything too literal, but I actually think mine is probably one of the most straight-forward. In doing these photos, I wanted to use my skills as a photographer to speak past the attempts to silence my rights and those of my community. I think my photo illustrates someone wanting to put something seemingly intangible into perspective – or frame.
11. If you could only listen to one CD for the rest of your life and it couldn’t be a mixed CD what would it be?
This one is a tough question too! It would probably be, gosh! I mean I really enjoy the Beatles; The White Album, that’s the last CD I remember owning or having. I really liked it. I can’t even remember the title of the song, because I would just listen to the whole CD.
12. What are three books you would recommend to a stranger on an airplane?
Three different books?! I would have to recommend Jane Lynch autobiography “Happy Accidents.” I would recommend Zach Walhs new book that is coming out, he’s a youth activist and he wrote about his two moms. And then Meghan McCain “Dirty Sexy Politics” I did the cover to that one too so check that out.
13. What do you see when you look through your lens that we don’t see?
Gosh, I feel like I see beauty in everything. I mean, I don’t know if… I don’t believe that everyone sees that all the time but I believe there’s beauty in everything and everyone.
14. What are three things you’ve learned that you hadn’t expected by doing the NOH8 campaign?
I’ve learned that there’re so many things going on in the community. It’s educated me that we’ve come so far but really there is so much more that needs to be done. Being able to travel all over the nation and to see all these different people come in with their stories and want to tell their stories through the NOH8 photos has really shown us that there’s so much more out there. I mean the fact that you can still be fired in the majority of the states just for being gay. The fact that you still can’t adopt in the majority of the states. There’s just so much more that needs to be done. That’s probably one of the biggest thing I’ve learned.
15. What is the sexiest city in the world? Hotel? Club? Restaurant? Place to shoot?
Sexiest Hotel – My favorite have always been W hotel, to narrow it down to one… I really liked D.C.
Sexiest City – Los Angeles no doubt.
Sexiest Club – That’s a tough one. I don’t know. I’ll say The Abbey in West Hollywood.
Sexiest Place to shoot – That’s hard to narrow down. It would have to be my studio in Los Angeles.
16. What would you say to a 15 year old who was being bullied about being gay?
Despite how cliché it might sound or hard as it might be to believe, things really can get better. I was born and raised in a small town in the middle of Illinois and never thought it’d be possible for me to live the life I’ve led so far. But I stayed true to myself and followed my dreams, and that’s really the best thing you can do. Kids at 15 will do anything to feel better about themselves, and that includes picking on people that are different than they are. Sometimes people grow out of it, sometimes they don’t; you can’t control that. What you CAN control is your own actions. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself! Being you is the best thing you can be.
17. You’re coming to Indy this month, any expectations?
I expect a huge turnout. I’m from the Midwest myself and have a lot of friends in that area. There’s been a lot of buzz about it so far and we’re really excited to get out there. A lot of people have been following the campaign for some time and I feel like the energy for the campaign is only growing. It’s really exponential the amount of faces we’ll be adding to this. I feel like its growing upward from here and it can only be huge for Indiana. I’m really excited.
18. Has there been anyone that was politically or personally difficult for you to photograph for the campaign because maybe it just didn’t feel like they should be part of it?
I mean, working with Cindy McCain was awesome because she showed that it wasn’t a republican or democratic issue. The fact that the focus on the conversation has always been on marriage equality I think shows the greater good is being done and we’re keeping the focus in the right direction.
19. What’s next for Adam Bouska?
I’m always working on something new. Right now the big focus is on the NOH8 campaign. We have a lot of things we’ve been working on. We’re going into a new iPhone app and we’re taking the campaign into new countries. I’m always going to be photographing regular stuff as well. I’m working on different book covers and different projects. The truth of the matter is, for me right now, my priority is the big focus on the NOH8 campaign. There’s a huge success there and we just want to push that as far as we can. As long as we have the attention and the support of the community we’ll be doing it and that’s what I’ll be focusing on.
20. What is your greatest simple luxury?
Being able to work and live with my partner. Growing up I just never thought that would be possible. The fact I get to do that every day, I don’t know, it’s a luxury for me. Something we can’t take for granted and see that we can’t take for granted.
Please visit the NOH8 Website for information on the campaign and to find dates for events near you.
Be Yourself. Be Unafraid. Be Your Own Unexpected Luxury!
*Photographs courtesy of Adam Bouska.
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Please visit the NOH8 Website for information on the campaign and to find dates for events near you.