I met Meg many years ago in Portland at Photolucida. I first saw her Corn Dogs and Blue Ribbons series and since I am a kid on most days, that work made me smile and bring me back to many a county fair. Smart, creative and talented, Meg looks for what ticks in all of us, and in finding that connection she lets us be part of her story. Portraits I think are one of the hardest images to produce. As a reflection of the moment you share, if that connection doesn’t happen, the image has no holding power. This project on the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence reminds us that we can be better than ourselves, contribute to a better world, and we can do it in ways that allow for our differences. These men share their lives with Meg, and with us with dignity, honor and openness. It is because Meg has can connect to her subject that these images can hold the power and the presence that they do.
About Sisters of the Commonwealth –
What does courageous and meaningful social action look like? How do we to face ignorance and intolerance in society? These are a few of the questions that these photographs of the lives and the activities of the Boston Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence explore—not by addressing them confrontationally but by opening new possibilities for thought and dialogue. Photographs, and the human stories behind them can be tools for inspiring compassion, shifting perspective, and supporting social change.
There are 2000+ Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence worldwide with 13 members in the Boston area. The Order welcomes anyone, although the majority of Sisters are gay men. Founded in 1979 in San Francisco, the costuming as nuns was meant as high camp to draw attention to the social conflicts, stereotypes, and taboos which lie at the root of intolerance and prejudice. These elaborate “habits” also provide each member with a unique persona through which they become an “avatar of activism”. The ministry believes that people should be encouraged to live their lives in any way that brings them the most joy, without guilt or shame, as long as they do no harm.
I have been photographing the Boston Order of Sisters since 2011 and they have graciously accepted me into their lives as a friend, chronicler and witness to their ministry. When I work with the Sisters I feel welcomed for who I am, and often arrive home feeling hopeful for a better future. I know that the profound emotional support that the Sisters offer can be life-changing, if not life-saving, perhaps even for the Sisters themselves.
About Meg Birnbaum –
Meg Birnbaum is a fine art photographer and graphic designer specializing in publication design. She is the director of communications for the Griffin Museum of Photography and produces the exhibition catalogs associated with the museum’s exhibitions. She is a member of the Griffin Museum’s exhibition committee.
Birnbaum taught illustration at Montserrat College of Art and has assisted Karen Davis with the Photography Atelier at Lesley University and the Griffin Museum of Photography. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, and the Lishui Museum of Photography.
She has had solo exhibitions in Kobe, Japan, the Davis Orton Gallery, NY, Panopticon Gallery, Boston, Corden Potts Gallery, San Francisco, the Griffin Museum of Photography, Lishui China, International Photography Festival, and at the Museum of Art Pompeo Boggio, Buenos Aires during the biennial Encuentros Abiertos-Festival de la Luz. Her work has been juried into many national and international photography competitions. Birnbaum was an invited exhibitor at Flash Forward Festival 2011 in Boston.
To learn more about Meg, and to see additional images, please log onto her website.