ASU student photographs the emotions and experience of coming out

The 'OUT' photo series takes viewers through the emotional journeys of LGBT+ students

Coming out can be an emotional experience for LGBT+ individuals as they go against societal expectations of heteronormativity and cisgenderism. This is what ASU student Zach Bramwell hoped to document in his honors thesis.

The graphic information technology senior photographed members of the queer community while they discussed their experiences with discovering and making public their sexual or gender identities, both negative and positive.

“Its core focus is really the difference between shameful or closeted experiences and positive, affirming experiences,” Bramwell said. 

His "OUT" Photo Series Show took place during April's First Friday at one·n·ten, an LGBT+ advocacy and community group.

He photographed 24 subjects, and with each subject comes side-by-side representations of both their negative and positive emotions. The negative emotions are portrayed through a black and white image of the subject's face, while the positive emotions are shown in bright, colorful imagery. Each person was told to describe their coming out experience with one word, which is included in the final product as well. 

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Associate professor of practice in the graphic information technology program and thesis director Penny Ann Dolin said that in her experience of working with thesis projects, Bramwell's process was unique.

“He let the people be the design elements,” Dolin said. “He visually tried to capture the difference in feeling from being hidden and being out.” 

Bramwell said he found the inspiration for this project through his experience in a similar body positivity photoshoot he participated in last year as a subject. He also finds inspiration from projects like “Humans of New York” that explore the personal stories of people in an unfiltered manner.

“It is important for representation to be authentic and come from an authentic place,” Bramwell said. 

He said the authenticity is what makes this exhibit so important, and that the most notable aspect of the entire project is how all the stories he heard were vastly different, yet they all featured some level of adversity.

“No matter how accepting family (and) friends were, no matter how good their environment was, even in the best of situations, there was so much hardship because of how much heteronormativity and other things play into our realities and experiences,” Bramwell said. 

He hopes that his photographs open viewers' minds on the concept of heteronormativity and how it affects members of the LGBT+ community. 

“I think it is important to leave viewers with the awareness that heteronormativity at large puts a real negative damper on a lot of people,” Bramwell said. “You can see it in the photos in the different expressions people have talking about it, let alone living with it.”

Women and gender studies senior Maria Pakulis was a subject in this project and said she hopes younger students, or students that are not quite comfortable with their identities, can look at these photos and feel inspired.

“You transform through coming out, and that is important to show,” Pakulis said. “Hopefully some students will see these photos and feel inspired to come into their joyous ‘out’ experience.” 

The overall message of this project is that acceptance of self is vital, Dolin said, a message that's shown through the expressions of the subjects. 

“It is a much better state of being to be at peace with who you are, whatever it may be,” Dolin said. “It’s not right or wrong, it just is. When you don’t have to hide who you are, it’s a much more joyous state, and that’s what his photographs are showing.” 

Reach the reporter at and follow @meganbarbera_ on Twitter. 

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