Dee Dee Woods and Christina Frary share an inner drive to glimpse behind the appearance of things, past preconceptions and prejudices.
And they're not alone.
Woods is an activist-artist, and Frary a wedding photographer. Their work is showcased in the "LGBTQ: Rights & Justice" exhibition, featuring works from 26 artists, at Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix.
Organized by the nonprofit art gallery Alwun House in honor of Pride Month, the multimedia show focuses on art reflecting the struggle of the LGBTQ community to gain justice denied. Works on display represent that struggle and accomplishments, from family photos and weddings to anti-gay protesters, pride, and personal achievements.
In addition to the exhibit, the Alwun House's Phoenix Pride program calendar in partnership with the City of Phoenix includes a symposium, film screening, and reception, all examining the theme of LGBTQ rights and justice.
"While 'gay' characters are everywhere on TV and in ads, musicals, even the military, yet you can still be fired for being gay," says Kim Moody, Alwun House's founder and director, by e-mail. He cites progress made in the LGBTQ community as the inspiration for the show. "This exhibit, symposium, film, and reception honor these relatively recent societal achievements."
Works were selected for the exhibit by a jury panel of local artists, curators, and arts nonprofit board members, including Annie Lopez, Ted Decker, and Mike Oleskow. They chose works of photography, acrylic paintings, watercolor, and mixed media, as well as found pieces of art.
Besides Woods and Frary, the show includes work from Angela Adams, Claudia Avila, Hector Garcia, Carla Geglio, Mark Greenawalt, Alfie Guadarrama, Pseudo G, Rebeca Hollingsworth, Todd Holt, Shawn Hosking, Eric Hultquist, Marlys Kubicek, Jose Lopez, Roisin McDermott, Genise McGregor, Rory McLean, Laina McWorther, Helen Parkhill, Erik Rennick, Reynaldo Rivera, Julio Rodarte, Holly Shoemaker, Christine Stoddard, and Kristin Wesley.
Both photographers, Woods and Frary each have multiple works featured in the exhibit.
Activist-artist Woods grew up in Phoenix and comes from a family of artists, musicians, and dancers. She consciously practices a subtle activism on behalf of minority communities with her photography by challenging observers' notions of the outward differences between people, races, and cultures and honing in on the common humanity.
"I think I kind of show that there's a commonality — that people, no matter where they come from, somehow can relate to those images and if they can't relate, it makes them think," Woods says. "As it relates to LGBTQ, I think Eartha Kitt said it best: It's a group of people that have been rejected and not accepted, and that's not good for any group. So I think that's a commonality with black people."
All but one of her four photographs in the 30-piece exhibit portray people she knows.
“My goal is about people feeling good, inspired, and rejuvenated from what I do,” Woods says. “As an artist, you take in the world around you and your experiences, good, bad, indifferent, and you ingest it and put it out there. Whoever or whatever it is that I'm shooting, [my work] allows people to be up close in a way they may not have seen before.”
Woods' father, the late Roosevelt "RIP" Woods, a professor of painting and drawing at Arizona State University School of Art, told her, “An artist has to have a hell of an ego. What they create is the essence of that person. You have to believe ‘this is my purpose.’ And only they have the confidence to perceive and pursue.”
In her work, Woods says, she looks for things that other people often miss. “I can see the end of a thing when the beginning is still in chaos,” Woods says.
Woods sees issues surrounding transgender people' rights, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, equal pay, and health care as emblematic of the power struggles that have reached a head in the U.S. and pushed their way into the public forum, but notes that Americans seem to have trouble dealing with issues head on.
"Distraction is the American way," Woods says. "We have it mastered.”
Frary, a Palm Springs-based wedding photographer, who grew up in what she calls a dysfunctional family environment, says she personally learned more about love from seeing the loving behavior of same-sex couples than she did from so-called traditional couples growing up.
Originally from San Marino, California, Frary lived in Phoenix several years ago and visits the area a couple of times per year. Though she doesn't identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, Frary has become known for photographing same-sex weddings in the Southwest since 2015.
“I want to show people the intimacy of this love — that it’s real,” Frary says. "When same-sex marriage was legalized, I had a lot of couples who had been together for as many as 30-plus years through all kinds of challenges. Finally, they were able to do the thing they’ve been wanting to do for over 30 years. It moves me in a way I had never even thought about.”
One couple had been together nearly 40 years before they could finally marry. “They had this deep, profound appreciation that intensified the experience of this event that other couples had always expected was attainable for them,” Frary says.
Renee and Colleen, the subjects in Frary's two photos on display at the exhibit, were married in October 2016 at Ruby Montana's Coral Sands Inn in Palm Springs.
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"I keep thinking of Beach Blanket Bingo when I see their images, as the hotel they married at is super-kitschy 1950s, painted pink," Frary says. "Half of the guests were still in swim trunks, and some were in the pool as toasts were given."
Frary photographs a variety of non-traditional and traditional weddings, and her work has been featured in Vogue Japan, The Knot, and Self.com.
“Love is love,” Frary says. “I believe that and to me it’s an oxymoron to say you’re open but then categorize people. To love somebody else is a very natural thing.”