The All Out Photo Award offers a voice for the LGBT+ community.
Attacks on the LGBT+ community are sadly not uncommon. Members of the community often share their stories of abuse, discrimination, and violence. Amongst the LGBT+ community are photographers, and many of them tell their stories through visual documentation. Now, alongside MTV, global movement All Out is giving them a platform to share their stories in the form of a 2021 photography award.
The All Out Photo Award is accepting entries until June 11th. Winners will receive $1,000 and a host of media opportunities to show their work.
Before the deadline, we caught up with one of the judges, Mengwen Cao. They are a Chinese queer photographer and artist based in New York. Cao was more than happy to answers our questions about the up and coming award.
Phoblographer: What does it feel like to be part of the judging panel for the All Out Photo Award?
Mengwen Cao: I feel honored and excited to be part of the judging panel with other talented queer photographers and artists.
I admire what All Out does for the LGBTQ community, how they connect local stories to the global audience. I’m curious to see the submissions from all over the world and from all the different perspectives, literally and figuratively.
Phoblographer: What kind of imagery and visual storytelling tend to catch your eye?
Mengwen Cao: The ones that feel authentic, nuanced and unique. I believe our lens is an extension of our eyes and our hearts. I am always looking for the heart-to-heart connection when I see work. It usually shows in the intention and care put in the work. That, for me, is more important than technical precision.
Phoblographer: The categories the All Out Photo Award are Resisting, Supporting, and Healing. What do all three represent for you in regards to the LGBT+ Community?
Mengwen Cao: For me, these three are interconnected. We are creating a healthy and generative culture of love, compassion and resilience. Resisting means recognizing the global reality and fighting for what we believe in.
Supporting means building a supportive and diverse network and root daily practice in care. Healing means recovering from past trauma and actively building a future we want to live in with thoughtfulness, patience and imagination.
Phoblographer: From your perspective, why do you feel this type of photography award is important in our current time?
Mengwen Cao: Because images can be a powerful common language to connect with the global audience on an emotional level, to raise awareness of love and equality, inspire people to ask questions and imagine what’s possible.
Phoblographer: The award will naturally attract photographers who are part of the LGBTQ community. But how do you feel about the way the community is currently represented across the photo industry?
Mengwen Cao: I think the media industry has changed a lot, but we still need more multifaceted and nuanced representations of the LGBTQ community. We see a lot of extreme stories of our community in our highest or lowest point. It’s nice to see us being glamorous at parties. It’s alarming to see us in oppressed situations fighting for our rights. What about all the space in between? Being queer is one layer of our identity. We are human beings just like everyone else, who are going through this complicated thing called life. So I also want to see how we live and how we love assuming our existence is normalized and valued.
Phoblographer: You identify as non-binary. Can you please tell us how this impacts your own experience in the photo industry?
Mengwen Cao: As a Chinese queer immigrant living in the United States working in the photo industry, I learnt the importance of self-respect and embracing change. I often find myself to be the only one with my specific identity in a room. At the beginning, it was easy to feel trapped in these labels and question my sense of belonging. But over time, I learnt to wear these labels proudly because they are part of me, and they make me who I am.
My embodied experience as a nonbinary person navigating this world, influneces how I see and how I make work. The more I show up with my frame visually and narratively, the more I can break free from the stereotypes that were imposed on me. Having experienced different forms of oppression because of my identity, I am embracing the power of vulnerability and tenderness. When I work with others, I try to lend that piece of understanding to others as well.
Phoblographer: When the winners are selected, what do you hope the competition will achieve for both them and the message their work sends?
Mengwen Cao: I hope they can celebrate themselves and their achievements and use this platform to spread messages of love and equality. I also hope they know competitions do not define them. You make images because you know that’s in your blood, because you know you are expressing your true self, documenting history and building better futures.
Phoblographer: As a judge, what message of inspiration do you have for those who are unsure about whether or not to enter their work?
Mengwen Cao: Why not? What would you say to your best friend if they want to enter the competition?
What if you are your best friend? Show us what you see. There’s nothing to lose. I look forward to seeing the world through your eyes!
Photographers have until June 11th to submit their work. You can enter the competition here.