By Terrance Turner
On Wednesday, June 29, a free photoshoot will be held for “Pride Portraits,” an event by Eric Edward Schell Photography. It is a celebration of LGBTQ Pride, depicting the community’s members and allies. All photos will be available on social media for free, but participants can purchase their photos at full resolution, without watermarks. Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to charity. A different charity will benefit from each shoot, but this particular event will benefit AIDS Foundation Houston.
Eric Edward Schell selected Houston as the first of the locations in which to photograph, since he resides here. He moved here eight years ago after having previously lived in San Francisco, New Jersey, and New York City. Before becoming a full-time photographer, he worked as a singer, actor, and dancer in musical theater. “I spent six years performing as a resident company member with a theater company at the Hobby Center, in downtown Houston,” he says.
But he left theater to pursue his true passion—photography. Schell has loved taking pictures for as long as he can remember. He took roll after roll of film photos of friends and then switched to digital, snapping thousands of photos on hard drives. “I am lucky to have always had amazing friends [and] great adventures,” he says, “and have always wanted to document my entire life. Photography seemed the best way to do so.” After taking classes at the Houston Center for Photography, he decided to start his own business. For the past two years, he has owned Eric Edward Schell Photography.
Schell has been involved in several projects for the LGBT community and recently documented Houston’s City Hall vigil for Orlando. Some of the photos ended up on social media of Mayor Turner’s office; others landed in the PBS documentary A Murder in Montrose: The Paul Broussard Legacy. But it was another effort that led to his idea for the portraits.
Three months ago, he was involved with a campaign called The TransVisible Project. “This project was used to help end the dehumanization of trans people and show the world that transgender individuals are human and live everyday lives, just like cisgender people do,” Schell says. As reported by OutSmart in May, the public education campaign aimed to help people better understand trans people and raise awareness of issues affecting them.
The campaign officially launched in Houston on March 31, the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Brad Pritchett, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, and Lou Weaver, transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas, conceived the project. The project, with volunteer photographers Eric Schell and Alex Steffler, is a series of photographs, each one depicting a transgender Houstonian with a quote that expresses his or her personality.
One of the pictures Schell took that day was of Weaver, in front of the rainbow color wall on Tuam Street. Schell was delighted with how it turned out: “I loved the photo and was drawn to it.” A few weeks later, Pritchett asked him to take part in a video urging people to be unafraid about attending Houston Pride, despite the horrific events in Orlando. At this video shoot, Schell once again photographed people at the rainbow wall.
“I started looking at my files and realized how beautiful a display of pride, equality, and unity they were. I have been looking for a way to get more involved in the LGBTQ community photographically, and I thought ‘This is it. I can bring together the community in photographs,’” he recalls. He theorized that the photos could show the world the strength, diversity, and humanity of LGBTQ people.
On a whim, he created an event post on Facebook, saying that he would be at the rainbow wall with his camera, taking “Pride Portraits” for free. “Eighty people showed up to the first event. I posted the photos that night, and my Facebook went insane. The response was overwhelmingly positive,” he remembers. Schell then got the idea to sell digital downloads of the photos in high-resolution, without his watermark on them. The prints would be shipped directly to the buyer’s house; Schell would donate half of the proceeds to a charity based in the city he was taking pictures in. For Houston, some of the charities he wants to benefit include Montrose Grace Place, Legacy Clinic, Bering Omega Community Services (specifically the Omega House), and the Montrose Center.
But he also wants to expand the project to other cities, like San Francisco, New York City, Portland, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. “The participants are selected by showing up,” Schell says. “I am willing to photograph anyone in the LGBTQ community, as well as allies to the community.” The June 29 event will take place from 4–8 p.m. at 302 Tuam Street.