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Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” photography project and photo book series? 

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by artist Jeff Sheng, is a photography series that features the portraits and stories of closeted men and women still serving in the U.S. military affected by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy banning gays and lesbians from openly serving in our military.  “Volume 1,” published in January 2010, is the first book that contains 20 different photo shoots in full color from 17 different service members from across the United States, printed along with selected anonymous e-mails from some of these troops detailing their experiences.  "Volume 2" published in September 2010, is 100 pages long and features the portraits of over forty service members taken in 2010.

Who is Jeff Sheng? 

 Jeff Sheng is a 30-year old American artist based in Los Angeles.  His other art project  “Fearless,” a photography series that Jeff began in 2003, now features the portraits over 100 openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes on high school and college sports teams.  "Fearless," has achieved international recognition and acclaim, having been exhibited at over 40 venues between 2006-2009, including the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in Canada.  Jeff also currently teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  You can see more of his artwork at www.jeffsheng.com  He received his Bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 2002, and holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA, Studio Art, 2007) from the University of California, Irvine.

 Why did Jeff Sheng choose to start a photo project on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”

In 2008, when his series, “Fearless” began gaining more widespread recognition, Jeff started to receive anonymous e-mails from closeted service members who had seen “Fearless” online, many of whom were previously closeted high school and college athletes and hence found a strong resonance with the subjects in “Fearless.”  Many of these e-mails also asked Jeff if he had considered working on a project for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and if not, strongly encouraged him to do so.  During President Obama’s first year in office, when it became clear to Jeff that a repeal of DADT would not happen soon, he felt compelled to follow through on these requests of the service members to work on a project to give them a visibility and voice through photography, but doing it in a way that would not cost them their careers or jobs in the military. 

 How did Jeff find participants for “Volume 1”?

The first few participants came from the early e-mails he received asking him to work on the project.  Then with his connections in the LGBT community and strong word of mouth through the Internet, such as online social networking sites, he built a network through trust and referrals to find more volunteers.

When was “Volume 1” photographed? 

The first photo shoot for “Volume 1” was in January of 2009.  The last photo shoot was a few days before Christmas, 2009.  Jeff flew over 30,000 miles back and forth across the United States for all of the photo shoots for the book, and the images were taken in almost every region of the United States: the South, the Midwest, the Great Lakes area, the mid-Atlantic region, the East Coast, and the West Coast. 

When was “Volume 2” photographed? 

"Volume 2" was photographed during most of 2010.  Jeff flew over 70,000 miles to over 25 states to interview and photograph over forty new service members for the series.

How did Jeff pay for the project?  Is there a sponsor?  How are the books priced? 

Like most American artists, Jeff paid for everything with his personal credit cards.  The project is entirely self-funded and self-published.  While Jeff is in close communication with various LGBT organizations such as GLAAD and Service members Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the project is an independent art project with no official sponsors or funding.  He hopes to pay back his debt and fund future work on the series through in kind gift donations from the public to the project via this site, and sales of books.  

Why did Jeff choose to self-publish the project?

 There were a few factors that led to Jeff’s decision to self-publish:  

  1. Jeff chose to use a local printer in Los Angeles, A&I Labs/Books in Hollywood, just a few minutes from Jeff’s studio near Culver City.  He enjoys employing the local economy, and he meets frequently with the staff that lays out, prints, binds, and handles all his books, and if there is any problem with the quality he can immediately speak to someone directly involved in the printing process.  
  2. Jeff also felt that expediency in getting the book seen by the public was very important, and that the images could be put forth into the public quickly to help any repeal efforts of the DADT policy in 2010.  Self-publishing allowed for him to release "Volume 1" just a few days before President Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address and to put the images forth into the public during a time when it was most pertinent to the political climate.  "Volume 2" was released during the time when Congress took up debate of the issue in the Fall of 2010.

Unfortunately, self-publishing also means that there is a higher cost to each book being printed since the work can not get off-set by a massive quantity printing, but must be done in smaller and more costlier quantities.


Who wrote the afterword for Volume 1?

W.M. Hunt - also known as Bill Hunt - a New York City photo dealer and collector, and one of the principals at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler Gallery in the Chelsea District of New York City, kindly wrote the afterword for Volume 1 after being approached and asked by Jeff to do so.  Not only is Mr. Hunt a highly respected and well-regarded figure in the art and photography world, Jeff felt that it was also significant that Mr. Hunt is an openly gay veteran of the Vietnam War.  The afterword, "Roaring Silence," is featured at the end of the book, and is the first time the piece has been published and was written specifically about the images in "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Volume 1."

Who contributed writings for Volume 2?

Congressman Patrick J. Murphy, the United States representative who introduced a repeal bill into the House, wrote a foreword for Volume 2.  Discharged veteran Major Mike Almy and celebrated LGBT activist David Mixner, contributed essays that appear at the end of the book.


Are the images available as collectable art pieces? 

Yes.  The photographs are 16” x 24” and limited in an edition of 5, and are available through Jeff’s dealer, Kaycee Olsen Gallery in Los Angeles.  Please contact Kaycee Olsen directly at ko@kayceeolsen.com for any questions regarding the acquisition of prints. 

I am in the military and would like to participate in the project, how do I contact Jeff?

If you would like to schedule a photo shoot with Jeff or if you would like to contribute any experiences and writing via e-mail, you may contact him directly and confidentially at his personal account jeffsheng@jeffsheng.com.