Making invisible couples visible

Since 2013, French photographer Olivia Ciappa has been acting to make visible same-sex couples and homoparental families. Concerned with raising public awareness of this LGBT theme, she travels France and the world with her photos to depict an existing reality.

In 2012, while the Ayrault government seeks – under the aegis of Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice – to enact a law on same-sex marriage, thousands of people march in the French streets to support or oppose the measure. Beyond the marital union, it is also the thorny issue of Medically Assisted Reproduction (MAP) as well as Gestation Pour Autrui (GPA) that divides public opinion.

As a reminder, MAP – also called artificial insemination – is a set of clinical and biological practices that will be accompanied by medicine in the process of procreation (inseminations, in vitro fertilizations, transfer of frozen embryos). GPA consists in having a child carried by a woman outside the couple – a surrogate mother – who wishes to conceive the child. It concerns both heterosexual couples (absence or malformation of the uterus) and homosexual couples. Every year, many French couples have recourse to surrogate mothers abroad to realize their desire for a child.

« There is a total invisibilization of LGBT families in France »

Despite the sanctions imposed by the law, there are in France, since the 70s, about 300,000 homoparental families. For the photographer, « there is a total invisibilization of LGBT families in France. Also, it is to make visible these existing families that she photographs them in black and white, under the frontispiece of « Couples of the Republic ».

Through 826 photos of real couples – heterosexual, homosexual, disabled and from different ethnic backgrounds – she tells stories of very common relationships. To this first series of photos is added that of « Imaginary Couples », formed by celebrities from the world of sports, cinema and sometimes the political world.

An exhibition cancelled six times

What Olivia Ciappa regrets is that despite the existence of these couples and families that do not belong to the nuclear model, they are not included in the public debate. Today, we tend to put forward religious extremists rather than the people concerned. This photographic work, which she began alone, without financial support from the State, eventually interested the former mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë. Six times scheduled, her first exhibition was cancelled « for fear of offending certain elected officials ».

It finally obtained political and financial backing. Exhibited on the gates of the Square du Temple in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, the photos were vandalized twice during the opening in 2013. They will be reprinted. Six years after the events, only four of the more than 200 exhibitions that took place have been destroyed. For some people it is intolerable because they know that nothing will have more power than art, » says Olivia Ciappa. People allow themselves to give their opinion, but you can’t give an opinion on people who exist. »

« Nothing will have more power than art »

These exhibitions have been exported abroad where the photographer has even had the opportunity to reproduce « Imaginary Couples » by having local celebrities pose, in Canada for example. Within France, her exhibition has become a travelling one, allowing her to go twice a week to secondary schools in the suburbs and the provinces to discuss her work with young people. If the students mostly welcome her photographs – which are now included in the 4th grade ECJS textbooks – she also notices an « intransigence and very violent opinions » from some young people « because for this generation that grew up with the Manif pour Tous, being homophobic has almost become a political fight ».

Olivia Ciappa is under almost constant pressure. Her Facebook account has been hacked and her work deleted, and she has suffered several waves of harassment on social networks. Optimistic, she nevertheless continues to defend her convictions. According to her, you have to be really blind not to see what’s going on, and the access to a multitude of false information that social networks allow urges artists to militate with an artistic response. Her response will be through her photos, her films, her books.