New Jersey-based photographer Mike Craft has a natural talent behind the camera which he is using in the ongoing fight for equality. His photgraphs are powerful and poignant.
Mike spoke with TheBPlot’s contributing writer Michael Cook about how he got started with such a worthwhile cause, his first Asbury Park photo shoot and how he is taking his NJEQ advocacy to the next level.
Mike, you’re pictures for the “NJEQ” project are fantastic. What got you interested in photography?

Thanks so much! I actually became interested in photography when I took a photography class in college just to fill my schedule. I really enjoyed the class, which made sense since as a kid I’d spend hours looking at old black & white family snapshots, and loved the old hollywood glamour portraits.

What gave you the idea to begin taking pictures relating to the issue of gay marriage?

After seeing Adam Bouska’s “NOH8” photo campaign and participating in it in NYC, I thought it would be cool for a photographer in each state to do the same. It was a very original and eye-catching kind of “protest” he started, and I thought things like this would attract more attention than just the usual protest/march.

You recently did a photo shoot at Paradise in Asbury Park. How was that experience working so “hands-on” with the local gay community?

The first three shoots I did in my East Orange studio were mainly young straight girls and women, which was great! I was so impressed that I got that much support from the straight community. Then in August, a group of us put together an art show called “Equality”,  which was more of a mix.

The shoot at Paradise was the first time I had the gay community being the majority and it was fun.  At first, some didn’t understand the meaning of having their mouths taped, which was also something I heard about when doing the “equality” art show shoot.  It makes me wonder what these people think of the “NOH8” photos which have been so popular.

You’re photo project has taken on a life of its own and quite a buzz has grown. Did you ever think it would grow to the heights that it is starting to?

I was hoping. I don’t think anyone starts anything like this and doesn’t have some kind of expectation of it becoming recognized and becoming something people talk about. You hope people will take notice and learn something from the photos by looking at who has posed and what they have to say.

On my blog, I have each person write a little something about themselves or why they believe in equality.

When taking a picture for the “NJEQ” project, what do you look for from your subject?

I always hope they bring a little prop that gives some insight to who the person is. It gives me something to work with when taking their picture and gives the photo some character. I love when someone comes in and knows exactly what they want to do and hams it up a bit!

We know that gay marriage is one of your passions. Bullying is also becoming a very prevalent topic, which the numerous recent tragedies. Any plans on working on that issue?

While I  started this as a “silent protest” for gay marriage I realize the name “New Jersey Equality” means so much more, especially after we’ve had so many gay teens take their own lives because of the bullying. Now I want it to represent equality in all aspects. I’m also going to  contact Rutgers’ University and see if they would be interested in me doing a shoot on campus.

What three celebrities that you would love to feature in the “NJEQ” ad & what prop would you like them to bring?

Definitely Blondie’s Deborah Harry, since she was raised in NJ; I would like her to pose with Blondie’s “parallel lines” album. Cyndi Lauper, definitely such a huge part of the gay community; I would want her to pose with her dulcimer(instrument). And lastly, Ricky Martin, with his twins!

What’s next for the “NJEQ” project?

I’ll be doing another NJEQ shoot at Paradise in Asbury Park on Saturday, October 17th during the Mr. & Mrs. Leather 2011 contest, and possibly another on Santa Saturday, the weekend after Thanksgiving.
I definitely plan to do a shoot at Rutgers University. As for myself, I’m doing a group art show with some friends at Clearview Cinemas (Chelsea) in NYC on Nov. 18 called “Technicolor”. Lastly, I’ll continue doing circus/freakshow themed photos, which I’ve been working on for awhile to show sometime in the future. (http://www.njeq.org/)