Groundbreaking photo series features 14 openly gay Canadian high school and college athletes

By Cyd Zeigler

Sheng’s 100th ‘Fearless’ photo shoot will be on display in Vancouver.
Football player Matt H. shows Sheng’s artistic eye.

One of the highlights of Pride House at this month’s Vancouver Winter Olympics will be an installation of Jeff Sheng’s groundbreaking photo series, Fearless. For most of the last decade, Sheng has photographed openly gay high school and collegiate athletes for the series.
He recently visited Canada where he tracked down 14 athletes to photograph. Large prints of those 14 Canadians will make up the installation at Pride House. The athletes represented participate in water polo, rugby, soccer, martial arts…and yes, hockey and curling.
What’s so striking about Sheng’s Fearless project isn’t the athletes, it’s the way in which he’s approached them. Most gay photographers would focus on the male athletes and have them stripped down to their compression shorts and maybe their cleats. Instead, Sheng refuses to sexualize the subjects and instead brings out what makes them unique: The athlete in them.
Take his photograph of Matt H., a high school football player. You can hear the wheels turning in Bruce Webber’s head: Matt sitting shirtless in the grass, his tight abs and oversized pecs, gazing off into the sunset. And that image would be plastered across every blog known to West Hollywood.
But Sheng is an artist, not interested in what kind of beefcake shots he can grab. In his brilliant hands the camera reveals in the photograph of Matt striking color, shamelessly intense eyes, and the stance of a champion. This is not some model with football pads, this is a young man who has lived and breathed the sport. Sheng’s photographs reveal all of that.
Sheng says the project will end later this year when he turns 30. The ‘Fearless’ series was intended to span his 20s, and the former tennis player says it’s a fitting representation of his first substantial foray into the world of photography art.
Available now is a gorgeous set of prints with personal notes by Sheng on the ‘Fearless’ project. You can find more information by visiting his dealer’s Web site.
If you’re an openly gay high school or college athlete, you’ve only got a few months to be part of Sheng’s historic undertaking. Visit his site or email him if you want to be part of history.