By Linda Horn
The Baggage Project is now looking forward to some positive “baggage” words after controversy.
T.J. LeBlanc, creator of The Baggage Project, said she was not surprised by the controversy surrounding the very public unveiling of her gallery in downtown Belleville last month.
“The pictures were big. You were forced to look at them. I thought it would be interesting to see how long it will be before someone complains or I have to take them down, even though you can’t see anything. Everything is covered,” said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc got her answer a few days later on Dec. 22 when she received a text saying the landlord was getting heat, and even though she had the space until Jan. 31, it would have to be taken down by Dec. 26.
“I was frustrated that people were calling it pornography. I poured three years of my heart and soul into this and I started to think, ‘what I am doing? ‘This whole project was about accepting people for who they are,” said LeBlanc.
Richard Courneyea, owner of Richard Davis, a clothing store in downtown Belleville heard about the project being pulled and felt it was important to keep the conversation going. He asked LeBlanc if they could display her gallery at his store until Jan. 17.
“The response has been so positive. People call and leave messages on your Facebook page and they have all been very positive,” said Courneyea.
Amanda Marshall, a 30-year-old mother of three, posed for the project in October 2010.
“I feel it was liberating. Afterwards, especially during the interview I found a weight had lifted off me. Since then I have had more respect for myself and stopped repressing things. It was a great experience in total,” said Marshall.
Marshall’s photo was one of the photos being displayed during the controversy.
“With everything comes controversy. To call it pornography was insulting to T.J. Even my children have seen the pamphlet. You can’t see anything. They are not supermodels in the pictures and people need to realize that is what people really are,” said Marshall.
LeBlanc also sees the positive side of all of the controversy her project received.
“The controversy did get people talking and I have gotten a lot more people booking appointments,” said LeBlanc.
Her final goal of The Baggage Project is to publish a book. Her original goal was to photograph 100 people but now she has increased that to 200 or 300 people. She also needs to look for more diversity in people.
“I will hang on to the pictures until I get a book deal. It will happen. I know it will,” said LeBlanc.