Wendi Kali is the creator and photographer of the Butch/Femme Photo Project. She has traveled around the United States and parts of Canada capturing the unique and individual expressions of the Butch and Femme identities. The images and words are compiled in a book that was released in December 2014 by Blue Skirt Productions. You can view some of the images and read quotes from the participants at http://butchfemmephotoproject.com. The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and Indiebound.org.
I remember making up games as a young child. Video games that could be played at home hadn’t quite hit the market yet, so my friends and I played outside until the street lights came on. Somewhere between my younger years and my teenage years I picked up a camera. I still have a few photos I took while on a family road trip. In middle school I learned to play the guitar was a part of the guitar ensemble. As a teen, I spent a lot of time in my room with headphones on listening to the radio as I sketched. I loved to draw and took several art classes in high school. I battled with depression as a child so music and art were a part of my escape.
Ever since I picked up a camera for the first time and realized I could record a moment in time with it, I was forever fascinated by photography. But it wasn’t until my 20’s that I finally purchased my first, what I called, “real” 35mm camera. It was a Minolta. I still have it and use it on occasion. After that purchase, I enrolled in a photography class at college. I found the technical aspect of the class to be very helpful but it wasn’t until many years later when I realized that I needed to not focus so much on the “rules” and pay more attention to my instinct and my eye.
My ultimate goal with the project was to show my community (the LGBTQI community) that the Butch/Femme community is still very much alive, thriving and ever evolving. I also wanted to make a point in that we all have our own ways of defining the identities. My definition of Butch, for myself, may not be the same as yours and that’s ok, it’s valid and it’s still Butch. No one should be policing that.
The idea for the project began after attending the Butch Voices Conference that was held in Portland, Oregon in 2010. It was a period of time where I was searching for my own identity and, until attending that conference, had a hard time claiming an identity other than lesbian. Within that conference I not only found my community, I found the diversity within that community.
After the conference I spent a lot of time researching the history of the Butch/Femme community and found that there weren’t a lot of current books on the subject. Being a visual person, I looked for photographs of the community today and wasn’t finding much so I decided to start my own project.
My biggest advice for anyone starting a fundraising campaign for their project is to be authentic. Let the words come from your heart and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Vulnerability is courageous and brave and people respond to that in a very positive way.
When I sat down to finally make the video, I had an idea of what I wanted to say but didn’t write a script. I wanted the video to be personal. I wanted it to be real. It was terrifying to me to pour my heart out like that and put it out there for everyone to watch but I wanted people to see how much the project meant to me.
Just be you.
Also, once it’s up and running, promote it, promote it, promote it. Every day it’s running promote it. It will feel like you’re becoming annoying but forget about that and remember why you’re doing the fundraising. It’s important.
Finally, know that it’s not the only way to raise funds. There’s always a plan B or C or D. Specially when the project is near and dear to your heart. Don’t give up. If it’s important to you, chances are it’s important to others and needs to be done.
The world around me is inspiring. People, animals, nature, life is inspiring. You just have to be open to it. Also, I read a lot of biographies and memoirs of other photographers.
Self promotion and marketing is the most dreaded task for me. I’m never comfortable with it. I’m an introvert by nature so it feels unnatural to me.
My favorite task is organizing. With the project I had to organize a 9 day trip across the country. It involved coordinating with the people who volunteered to be a part of the project, planning an itinerary, booking flights, car rentals and hotels plus mapping out the route that was most efficient in order to reach everyone. It was a 9 day trip in which I was on 8 flights, in 11 cities and had 23 photo shoots. I traveled from Portland, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts and stopped in cities along the way, including Toronto, Canada. It took 8 hours to plan that trip and I loved every minute of it.
At the moment, no. But, I’m open to the muse. The project took quite a bit out of me so it’s taking some time to recover and I’m allowing myself that time.
Remember your priorities, take time for yourself when you can and do your best to be fully present in each moment. Our children grow up faster then we realize.
How has being a mom changed your work and/or your creative process??
I would say that, if anything, it’s taken me outside of myself and opened up my world and my heart so much more. Watching a child discover the world gives you a second glance at it and, for me at least, makes it much more magical. I feel like I see much more than I did before I was a parent.
The photo (that I’ve taken) that is most meaningful to me is my son’s senior photo.
My superpower would be helping others to see that we’re all connected to the world around us.
I’m really horrible at romantic relationships.
If I could spend a day with one person, alive or dead, it would be His Holiness The Dalai Lama.