Early last year, Melbourne photographer Michaela Olijnyk was feeling a little invisible. More accurately, she was feeling all lesbians were a little invisible.
With the gay men of Queer Eye, Queer As Folk and Will & Grace filling TV screens and being embraced by the mainstream media, Olijnyk felt like lesbians were becoming lost in the queer mix. So, she decided to do something about it.
Her photographic exhibition, Invisible Women, showcased a variety of lesbian women in society, but the work was about to give birth to a much broader photographic exhibition, which has since caught the attention of Melbourne’s art scene.
Lesbian And Gay Family Portraits is currently showing at Melbourne’s St Kilda Town Hall, and the exhibition has been so successful that Olijnyk is planning on bringing it to Sydney next year.
The exhibition, which was presented at this year’s Midsumma Festival and then at Rainbow Families 2 Conference, features nine photos of lesbian mothers with their children. Two of the pictures also show the fathers of the children.
At the time of the Invisible Women exhibition, my intention was to do a second series titled Invisible Women, Lesbian Families, says Olijnyk. Then when the Play School situation ended up on the front page of The Age, that became the main source of inspiration of how this body of work began to evolve.
It was important for me to photograph these women outside their respective picket fences, even though some of them have brick walls instead of picket fences, she laughs. But it is the same principle, commenting on the Australian dream of the home and showing that dream is legitimate for lesbian and gay families as well.
They are three different kinds of family compositions in the photos -“ women who had children before they came out, women who have had children by themselves as single lesbians, and lesbian couples who have brought a child into their relationship.
I hope people look at the pictures and say, -˜That fence looks just like my fence, and those people could be my next-door neighbours -“ and look how well and happy those kids are.’ I wanted to show these kids are not traumatised by having gay parents.
With the plans to bring Lesbian And Gay Family Portraits to Sydney in the New Year, Olijnyk, who uses traditional film photography rather than digital, is now at work on broadening the scope of the exhibition to include a wide range of people.
I would like some more diversity, more ethnicity and a range of ages. I would also like to look into adopted children. I also heard of such an amazing diversity of arrangements and relationships that these women had with men. Whether they called them dads, donors, fathers or uncles, it was striking that there is no rule book of how you go about gay parenting.
Lesbian And Gay Family Portraits is at St Kilda Town Hall in Melbourne until 24 September.