Minds Wide Open Project

Michelle Wagner's Minds Wide Open project

There’s a new photography project in town that is very sex-positive, care to participate?

MY photoshoot is tomorrow, and I can’t wait for my truth to be captured in a bold and brave way that I’ve never done before! Here I interview the artist behind the project, Michelle Wagner.

Kendra Holliday: Who are you?

Michelle Wagner: My name is Michelle. I’m a portrait photographer, an artist, a mom, a friend, a lover.

KH: What is Minds Wide Open project?

MW: It is a photo-art project that is meant to inspire acceptance and coexistence. Here is the website. It is a place to see some images and read about the process, both creative and other.

KH: How did you get the idea for this project?

MW: The idea for this project came from a statement a friend of mine Charlotte Times made on her blog.

Charlotte Times posing for the Minds Wide Open Project

Specifically, this paragraph she wrote is what led to my vision of this project:

“Some might argue that a mom with a sex blog is not the right person to chaperone a field trip. I would argue that at least with me, you know what’s going on in my world. No secrets here!  What about the parents you DON’T know about?

We all know that EVERYONE has secrets and kinks and fetishes and some even have wild lives they want to keep hidden. Sometimes I picture the moms and dads standing in the school pick up line holding signs that confess their sins.

The innocent looking mom in the track suit, “I sell drugs  to help pay my electric bill.”  The dad in the suit, “I hooked up with a guy from Craigslist during my lunch hour. Hope my wife never finds out.”  The mom in the school shirt, “I fantasize about putting either arsenic or Viagra in my husband’s coffee. Either one would be an improvement.”

Her thought led to a light bulb moment for me.

Minds Wide Open on Cherokee Street

KH: No kidding, that’s brilliant! What type of people and concepts are you looking for?

MW: All people. Adults, children, elderly, people with disabilities, any race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, etc… There are no boundaries for who can be involved. I am photographing real people, not models.

As far as concepts go, any topic that is important to the individual or to society.  I have already photographed grief, body image, bullying, respect of numerous topics, race, breastfeeding, adoption, mental health, and responsible pet ownership/animal abuse.

KH: Do you have a studio, or do you shoot on location?

MW: I only shoot on location. For this project and for all of my portraits, as well. I prefer a more casual photo, less posing and more capturing expression.

KH: What subject have you had the hardest time finding models who are willing to put their faces to?

MW: Anything sex/kink related. It seems that this topic is the one that people most prefer to remain anonymous by association, but I decided that defies the purpose of acceptance if we aren’t willing to put our face to what we represent…at least in terms of this project.

KH: You know, this project reminds me of Postsecret, except you’re taking it to the next level with putting a face to our truths, which is a progressive step in my opinion, a good sign. Do you agree?

MW: I can see the similarity in this and Postsecret.  The difference being that this isn’t simply a confession and definitely not anonymous. It is with purpose: that awareness begets change. MWOproject = awareness that we are all fighting similar battles, internally or externally and yet we still judge one another and tend to be as hard on each other as we are on ourselves =  we can change our behavior and coexist with acceptance.

KH: What sort of challenges have you faced in realizing this dream?

MW: I have certainly encountered plenty of judgment and non-acceptance while acquiring images for this project. Apparently, this project is very timely and necessary!  At least it would seem so while being run off of a public sidewalks and openly mocked for wanting people to be nicer to one another.

It seems a lot of people would scoff at me for wanting change for the better, as though I couldn’t BE more ridiculous. I am not so naive that I believe I will change the world with this project, it is simply a way of inspiring some people who may do something to inspire other people and so on, and so forth.

KH: Why do people have such a problem accepting others for who they are? For accepting their truths?

MW: In my opinion? Fear. Self-loathing. Projection. It is easier to judge or to make someone feel bad than it is to be open and truthful with yourself that you, too, have parts of your self or your life that could very well be judged.  The norm seems to be to walk around and treat others like your own shit doesn’t stink, when in fact all humans have stinky shit. Sorry for the analogy, that is the best I can do.

KH: Do you think our country is becoming more tolerant when it comes to sexuality?

MW: Overall, yes. I do believe that we are becoming more open-minded and tolerant of sexuality and many other differences, too. Unfortunately, I think that while our minds are opening, our behavior still exhibits our fears.

KH: What are some examples of shoots you’ve had so far?

MW: Oh, I mentioned most of the topics in a previous question…I have shot in a cemetery about grief, in front of a church about religion…It is probably better explained to take a look at the website to get an idea. But you won’t find all the images there because the website if to gain interest, not to display the work in its entirety…sorry!!

KH: Who inspires you?

MW: My friends, my grandparents, my dad, my husband, the unexpected loss of one of my dearest friends this year, my daughter, my life every day. Pretty much everything around me to some degree!  You inspire me, Kendra! Oh, and Oprah!  I can’t possibly leave out Oprah!  Cheesy, but true.

KH: What’s your goal for the project? How many shots do you want, will it be a show or book, what do you hope it accomplishes etc

MW: I am hoping to include some of the shots on the website, as well as to have a photo book published. I am also leaning toward composing a book of just animals to be sold to benefit animal rescue. As of right now, that is my intended goal.  I would love to present them in a show, as well.  At the end of the summer I will be sorting through all my images and seeing what more is needed.

I will likely use August and September to recruit volunteers for photos of topics still needing representation and/or anyone enthusiastically wanting to get involved.  SEX (kink, fetish, preferences, important facts about, etc…) is the one subject that I am extremely lacking involvement and would love to hear from anyone interested in representing that topic.

KH: How can people volunteer to be a part of the project?

MW: They can email shotsauce (at) gmail.com, they can comment on http://mwoproject.com, or they can call me at 314-808-2781!


  1. Michelle is a talented photographer and a beautiful person. I was honored to be a part of the project! Please call Michelle and get involved. She is so great to work with and will put you completely at ease. Thanks for this interview, Kendra, and spreading the word!

  2. Thanks for being part of it! I’m doing mine in a couple hours and have at least two other sex-positive friends who are going to participate! Hope Michelle gets good representation, it takes guts!

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