Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Jenny Shutt and Ryann Webb look at the photos and profiles of nontraditional families on display at the Main Library.

Mimicking a traveling photography exhibit shown last year in Salt Lake City, locals put together their idea of what a family should look like and are showing it through dozens of photographs hanging at the City Library.

"Families ... It's All Relative" opened Wednesday night and will be showing until the end of March. Creators of the exhibit hope that it will foster feelings of acceptance, tolerance and teach diversity to members of the community.

The photographs showcase local families, whether they be a mom, dad, two kids and a dog, or two moms, a baby and two cats or even husband and wife with their pets, among many other combinations.

"A family is a bond created from a connection to one another," said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday. He said families are not necessarily created by signed documents and sacred ceremonies but by qualities by the heart.

As the mayor, he said, he believes his extended family has more than 1 million members in it, including all of Salt Lake County, to whom he says he has an obligation.

Paulmichael Maxfield, one of the writers for the exhibit, said the idea behind the project was to "break down the hurtful and awkward myths about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"We all take our dogs for walks, we all eat Cheerios and we all take our kids to school," Maxfield said. "We've all got things in common."

He said the show is sure to draw some controversy in Utah's culture, which is predominately LDS, but he said the exhibit is thrusting issues that affect all families into the public eye.

"We want to change one heart at a time and tell everyone that 'it's OK, there's nothing weird going on here,"' said Debbie Thompson, of West Jordan. Thompson, along with her wife and 6-month-old son, were photographed as a family for the exhibit.

"It's incredibly important for us that our mainstream lesbians to be open about who we are," she said. "It's not right for us to blend in."

Subjects of the photographs were recruited at random via applications made available on the Internet last month. Some were invited to participate due to their unique family situations.

"We wanted to represent all different kinds of families here," said John Johnson, chairman of Salt Lake City's Winter Pride, a program of the Utah Pride Center. He said every effort was made to include at least one photograph from each niche — including traditional, gay, lesbian, single-parent and childless families.

Each family representation is shown with a description of how that unit came to be.

"It puts a face to some of the issues we talk about and it tells their stories," Johnson said. "It differentiates titles and names."

Library curator Jody Plant said she hopes the event will return year after year, providing a chance to show more faces of the community.

"The library is our civic center and a great place for such civic dialogue," she said.

The event includes an interactive family tree, where patrons can write their thoughts and views on family on paper leaves that are later attached to a 10-foot-tall tree sculpture. It is part of Winter Pride 2007's 10 Gay Days, which began Feb. 9 and extends until Sunday. Information on the festival can be found at www.slcwinterfest.com.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com