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Carey Candrian knows there isn’t much space for art in medicine or academia.
Before the pandemic, Candrian, who holds a Ph.D. in health communication and works as a professor at the University of Colorado School Anschutz Medical Campus, received a grant to interview older LGBTQ women in Colorado in order to better understand the challenges they face as they’ve aged. But she quickly realized it would be a tall task to move the general public by their stories—after all, how do you convince anyone to pore over academic literature outside a classroom?
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Candrian knew she would have to get creative. Luckily, she has a camera (though she had never published her photography before). She called the research participants back and asked if they’d be willing to be photographed. All of them agreed, and Eye to Eye: Portraits of Pride, Strength, Beauty was born. The exhibit has been displayed at various spots since October 2021, from the CU Anschutz Medical Campus to Out Boulder County, and is now set to open at the Bob Ragland Branch of the Denver Public Library in RiNo on Wednesday, March 1.
Ahead of the exhibit opening, we sat down with Candrian to learn more about how she combined photography and scientific research.
5280: Why did you specifically choose older LGBTQ women for your research and, ultimately, this exhibit?
Carey Candrian: [Members of] the older LGBTQ community really fought hard to come out. They’ve been called “lonely” and “silent” and “invisible,” and they are all of those things. The more minority statuses you add on, like “older,” “woman,” “LGBTQ,” “Black,” or “having a disability,” the more invisible these women unfortunately become. The grant came from the Lesbian Health Fund, so I did have to focus specifically on women, but I learned that women in the community, especially trans women, have become especially marginalized. Plus, the statistics are shocking: Many older LGBTQ adults are living at or below the poverty line, and some of that comes from ongoing job discrimination.
Is this your first time having art displayed? If so, any surprises that came with it?
It is, actually. I’ve photographed research participants before for scientific purposes, but this is my first time doing so for art. As academics, we get pressured to publish literature and write books, and I’ve done those things. None of them have had an impact as much as these photographs. I spend a lot of time thinking about how different things would be if we disseminated data in a way that was more accessible and in a way that could actually lead to change. Art is a really great way to change culture. It’s harder to hate someone to their face.
Why are you looking forward to Eye to Eye opening at the Denver Public Library, specifically?
When it was on display at the Fulginiti Pavilion at CU Anschutz, it got an audience of medical researchers and clinicians and students, which was great, and a group I really wanted to target. Then it moved to Out Boulder County, which was also great because it allowed it to connect more deeply with the younger generation of the LGBTQ community. But the purpose of this is to reach as many people [as possible, while remaining] free and accessible, so I feel like there’s going to be a wider audience seeing it at the Bob Ragland Branch. My goal is to eventually get it to other parts of Colorado outside the metro area.
How did your relationship with the subjects of the photos change throughout this project?
Doing research requires a certain level of trust between the researcher and the participants. The bravery and courage these women have shown has been phenomenal. They’ve been trained to stay silent, and then having to say yes to their photos and stories being on display throughout the entire state is a level of courage that I think is only made possible through that trust. I stay in touch with all of them, and I think that’s part of it, too. They know I wasn’t just trying to get a publication out of this—rather, because I want things to get better.
Even though the exhibit is a year-and-a-half old, why do you hope this exhibit keeps getting seen and talked about?
I don’t want it to go away because the issues haven’t gone away. In general, because society has become more accepting of LGBTQ individuals, people might think there’s no longer any problems, but there still are. The more ways that we can show that these people deserve to live with the same dignity as everyone else, the better. I hope this is just the beginning of Eye to Eye, and I hope it becomes much larger. Like I said before, it’s easy to hate someone when you just hear things about them, but it’s much harder to hate someone when you see a photograph of their face and hear their story.
Is there anything exciting coming up for you in the future?
We’re actually working on a documentary, and some of it will be shown at Boulder’s Dairy Art Center when Eye to Eye goes there in May. The film will be about meeting these people and actually hearing their stories. After that, I’m definitely not leaving the arts. To me, I think it’s impossible to make change without some combination of the arts and research.
Eye to Eye: Portraits of Pride, Strength, Beauty will be on display at the Bob Ragland Branch of the Denver Public Library starting on Wednesday, March 1, with a grand opening event planned for Saturday, March 11, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. It will later be on display at Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center in May.