In 2006, novelist Toni Morrison came to photographer and documentary filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ home for lunch and to take a portrait. During their friendly chat, they began discussing Morrison’s latest project –- specifically the African American "divas" with whom she conducted interviews. That conversation sparked something in Greenfield-Sanders’ creative mind and eventually led to “The Black List.”
“It got me thinking of African Americans as a group of talented people that were not photographed the way other people were. They deserved more attention,” Greenfield-Sanders told NBC OUT.
Using a combination of documentary-style filmmaking and portraiture photography, Greenfield-Sanders decided to showcase successful individuals who are part of marginalized communities. What initially began as “The Black List” photo and film series has since grown into a number of projects projects highlighting the Latino community, women and -- most recently -- the LGBTQ community. His newest project is titled "The Trans List."
For each project, Greenfield-Sanders, who lists Alfred Hitchcock and Bette Davis among his mentors, teams up with an interviewer to extract stories from notable individuals. Their stories are then shared in multiple forms -- a book of portraits, a documentary and a photography exhibit.
Journalist Elvis Mitchell, for example, worked alongside Greenfield-Sanders on three installments of “The Black List." Whoopi Goldberg, Serena Williams and Colin Powell were among the individuals included in the project.
“’The Black List’ reached a lot of important people in the United States -- not just in the African American community but in other communities as well," Greenfield-Sanders said. "The formula for it is so adaptable. The way I shot it, it’s my portraiture come to life."
Greenfield-Sanders was correct, and he now has a massive franchise on his hands. “The Latino List” showcased the stories of trailblazers including Eva Longoria and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Madeleine Albright, Alicia Keys and Margaret Cho were among the 15 women highlighted in “The Women’s List,” while “The Out List” included Dustin Lance Black, Wanda Skyes and other members of the LGBTQ community.
“You can’t watch these films and not learn from them, because people are opening themselves up. They are telling [us] about their lives, discussing their achievements and struggles as well,” Greenfield-Sanders explained.
His latest project, “The Trans List,” takes a closer look at one part of the diverse LGBTQ community and will include Penelope Ghartey, Justin Vivian Bond, Laverne Cox and Ian Harvie among its subjects.
“We chose people we thought deserved to be in this, who we would be honored to have as part of it," Greenfield-Sanders said. “It was particularly complicated with ‘The Trans List,’ because we wanted a balance of men and women. I think trans men tend to have less attention than trans women, so we wanted to make it as even as possible. We wanted to show the wide range within the trans community."
Greenfield-Sanders told NBC OUT the final product is “remarkable.”
“You can’t watch Laverne Cox in ‘The Trans List’ and not be moved by her accomplishments and the struggles she’s gone through to get to where she has," he added.
Greenfield-Sanders said the participation of Janet Mock in “The Trans List” contributed to what made it so "remarkable. The transgender pioneer, who was featured in “The Out List,” teamed up with Greenfield-Sanders again to interview the subjects in “The Trans List.” Greenfield-Sanders said Mock “brought a level of comfort” to the interviewees.
“I love Janet Mock. I am endlessly impressed with her. She’s a spirited, brilliant, thoughtful, thought-provoking person. I am lucky to know her,” he said.
“The Trans List” is now ready for the public. Greenfield-Sanders' "Identity" art exhibit -- complete with all 40 portraits included in “The Trans List” among other "List" portraits -- is set to debut at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles on September 24. And the companion documentary, also titled "The Trans List," will debut December 5 on HBO.
“I want people to see the show. I am proud of this body of work. I think the films are snapshots of a certain time in America and a certain experience in America. ‘The Trans List’ is certainly contemporary, but these films have a power to last,” Greenfield-Sanders concluded.