The Identity Project: Sarah Deragon’s Viral Portraits

by Amy Carlberg

When someone says, “I have a special gift for making people feel comfortable in front of my camera,” you’re inclined to disbelieve them. We’ve all taken awkward school photos and family portraits. But when Sarah Deragon says it, it’s 100% true. 

Sarah Deragon is the mastermind behind The Identity Project, her black-and-white photo series documenting the LGBTQ community. “Since we are constantly bombarded with online images these days, I’m so happy that the project has continued to stand out and build momentum vs. being a ‘thing’ for about a month and then forgotten about,” she says. “With photos, we get like two seconds to make an impression. The viewer is either moved by the image or not.” 

It would be difficult not to be moved by Deragon’s work. The comfort level she speaks of with her subjects is totally apparent on their faces and in their body language. They are highly involved in the portrait process and Sarah Deragon crafts the photos as gifts to her community. Once they have a conversation about the subject’s identity, Sarah does a quick shoot and then sends them a grid of photos from which they get to choose which is used. She always gives her subjects the final say on the portrait and presents them with one black-and-white and one colour portrait at the end. 

In the arresting video for her Indiegogo campaign, which you totally need to support, her subjects smile, at ease, just happy to be photographed by a professional, happy to be seen in a world that so often tries to render them invisible. We’re reminded that artistic portraits, even with social media and cameras everywhere, are a luxury. How many identities have not been captured in the past? How many beautiful people have slipped through art’s fingers? 

As much as words and pictures can be used to reveal, they can also erase and exclude. Sarah Deragon turns the concept of labels and stereotyping on its head. Labels don’t have to be bad, in fact, they can be lifelines to a community. The experiment takes something that’s often exclusionary and difficult (identifying yourself) and turns it into something fun. The idea is, label yourself first before anyone else can get to it. Once you see these portraits, the image of the person syncs so well with the words they have chosen to represent their identity, you can’t imagine calling them anything else–other than awesome! 

“Because I’m queer, I see these people every day, but you may not,” says Sarah Deragon. “You don’t need a fancy camera to start an art project that’s related to activism; you just need to start some sort of exploration. Find out what makes you mad or what you think is unjust in this world and dig in–start asking yourself questions about why you feel this way and contemplate if other people feel that way, too.”

Sarah Deragon has plans to visit other American cities once she raises the funds, and wants to create a documentary around the project, possibly including more back stories from participants. See all the images here and check out the Instagram so you can be a part of The Identity Project, too. She owns and runs Portraits to the People with her wife in San Francisco. We at BUST are getting into it–why don’t you?

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.