Los Angeles-based photographer Jeff Sheng has been working on a single photo project for well over a decade. Which, at 34 years old, is almost one-third of his life. Luckily, it's every bit as thought-provoking and inspiring as one would expect from something 12 years in the making.
"There's an idea that a photographer picks people they admire, respect, and find heroic," Sheng says. "I was a student athlete in the closet in high school, so I wasn't able to be out in the way these athletes are able to. It's wonderful to capture the people that I could never be."
The student athletes he's talking about make up The Fearless Project
, a series of out, LGBT high school and college students captured where they practice and play, a project Sheng started fresh out of college to raise awareness of the homophobia often found in sports. Of course, it wasn't ever meant to be more than a 20-portrait gallery show. "As I began to complete the project, the more unfulfilled it felt," he told us. "If you’re talking about representing a huge group of students, you’re talking about a lot of different sports, a lot of different schools, and a lot of different people."
Fast-forward over a decade and Sheng is still clicking away. He has photographed well over 200 athletes in North America, and thanks to grassroots funding on Kickstarter and a bevy of big name sponsors, he recently released a book by the same name
(with eight different covers to pick from, no less). "It’s part memoir and then it goes into five different athletes’ stories and an afterword by retired N.B.A. basketball player Jason Collins, who talks about his experience."
To celebrate, we asked Sheng to pick a handful of his favorite images from the project. Ahead, you'll find 16 stories that may just give your Thursday a much-needed dose of courage.