Hey folks! My new website is live! Go have a gander!
Hey folks! My new website is live! Go have a gander!
What is a “normal” gender identity? This question has been the driving force behind my research on gender, self-identity and sexuality. The innovative works of Judith Butler and Marjorie Garber, coupled with research into the represented gender identities in mainstream visual media, elicited the conclusion that there is no “normal” gender identity. Gender is free-floating; an imitation of an imitation with no essential origin and these notions were the driving force behind my final project, which I feel I have achieved.
My final project entitled “Gender Benders” consists of studio portraits of individuals that contest the rigid gender binary. The series supports the work of Garber and Butler and reinforces the idea that gender can be malleable. The series explores gender in its capacity to be reduced to individual components: a gesture, a hair style or flick of mascara. These individuals are unique and beautiful and I wanted to portray these individuals in this way. I achieved this by creating images that were more silent and gentle, the gender identities being left undefined and ambiguous. Despite this being a project exploring the wide array of gender identities, this is not a project about gender. This is a project about individuality and beauty, which is why I think it’s been a success.
You see despite the celebration and even acceptance of transsexuals, gays and drag performers in mainstream culture, the representation of trans*individuals are still falling short compared to the L.G.B community. Trans*individuals and other identities that move away from the gender binary are still very much a marginalised section of society, often stigmatized and misrepresented. A lack of knowledge and common misconceptions can leave trans* individuals, their families and friends feeling isolated, socially excluded and vulnerable. And this must change. It is crucial that people within the trans* community and those who have other socially defying gender identities are given the support and exposure they warrant like any other social minority within the U.K. We must raise awareness and show these individuals in a light that is accurate of the trans* community thereby reducing discrimination, prejudice and hostility. I hope my images will help advance trans equality within society and prove that beauty really resides in diversity.
I feel my photographs of gender bending, ambiguous individuals who embrace their individuality and move away from the gender binary will hopefully find a place in the current fashion market. Many more individuals with alternative gender identities have contacted me to participate in the project and so I’m really pleased that “Gender Benders” is fast becoming an ongoing series. After the opening night of the exhibition other people have contacted me complimenting me on the series and also forwarding me other subjects who could be potential subjects. This project has really inspired me and encouraged me to continue with this project, as its both current and an important issue to address.
Upon reflection this final project and the IMG19 exhibition has made me realise the difficulty of working in a team. Due to a hectic schedule and work I was unable to fully participate in all the aspects required in ensuring the IMG19 event was a success. This is unfortunate and I feel like I’ve missed the chance to gain new skills and feel a part of the group. Whilst the final project has developed and enhanced my communication, social networking and organisation skills as I have been conducting my own shoots, meeting new people and gaging more opportunities as an outcome through “Gender Bender”, it has also highlighted my weaknesses. I feel if I had managed my time more effectively and made more time for the event more could have been achieved as a team member. But all in all the final project has far outreached anything I would have initially anticipated and I hope it does continue to prosper.
Upon completing shooting and editing final photos I met with Jonathon Worth to decide what images would be displayed at the exhibition. We decided that the more subtle and ambiguous images were the most effective. They seem to elevate the subjects being depicted, who are still a part of a marginalized and stigmatized section of society, as dignified, comfortable and beautiful human beings. Below are the final images we selected as well as the initial layout plan for the exhibition.
Exhibition Initial Layout Idea
Once these somewhat crucial decisions had been made about the images which would be featured at IMG19 as well as their delivery I headed over to Wolverhampton to have the images printed. Unfortunately, the prints that I had originally paid for have not yet been completed. In a panic I asked for Dark Lens for advice who managed to get the images printed for me by a friend. The prints are not as strong, paper quality not as good and colours not as apt to the digital versions. However, they got here in time for installation which is perhaps the most important thing. Originally, I thought it would be nice just to have my final images mounted and on thick textured paper. However, due to the prints not being as good a standard as initially anticipated I decided to frame them. Having looked at images of legendary Ryan McGinley’s exhibition layouts, I decided slim black frames would best showcase my work. So once I had my prints I went to the Range and bought 12 frames.
Another aspect which was necessary in displaying my work at the exhibition was to create a text panel explaining my work.
Gender is“a stylized repetition of acts . . . which are internally discontinuous . . .[so that] the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief” (Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, 1990)
To say that gender is ‘performative’ is to argue that gender is “real only to the extent that it is performed”. We all walk, talk and act in ways, which consolidate an impression of being masculine or feminine. Gender is nuanced and exists in multiple forms within any given person.
Gender Bender depicts drag artists, those who perform as the opposite sex, transsexuals, men that have become women and vice versa, transgendered individuals, those who emotionally and psychologically feel that they belong to the opposite sex and individuals that prefer not to choose a sex and exist as both, adopting a dual identity. All attest to the ‘performative’ nature of gender and reinforce the fluidity of gender.
Upon reflection I feel my text panel should have been far more concise and simple. Its quite a lot of text to expect my viewers to read but I wanted to offer some context into the research and ideas that are behind the project.
Once I had my prints and frames, I packaged them and headed over to Lanchester Gallery on the 28th May. Due to work and being very ill I was unable to fully participate in other aspects of setting up and preparing the exhibition. Nonetheless, I got my work on the walls and helped clean up after. Initially, I thought my images would appear 4×3, 4 pictures across and 3 down. However, I had more space than anticipated. Therefore, I re-worked the initial plan and decided that my images would appear in 2 rows of 6. I actually feel this worked out a lot better and more closely resembles the exhibition space of Ryan McGinley’s for his series, ” Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” which I had been deeply inspired (above).
As a result and with the help of a friend we began to draw up and calculate a new plan, so the frames appear straight and precise (unlike the individuals depicted which is exactly my point). Once I marked out where the drilling and screws would need to be fixed me and my friend got started. As the wall was a plasterboard wall I had to run and get plasplugs than screw into them (yes I learned some DIY). This was a quick process to my surprise. Upon completion I began unwrapping my frames. I had to wipe down, remove and re-enter some of the images in the frames as dust and other bits were found lurking about! I than began hanging my frames. Once I had done so I noticed that a few of the frames were slightly off, made worse by the odd lighting, which created shadows in and around the frames. To get round this and to avoid having to start over, I used blue tack to re-arrange some of the frames, which worked quite well. Below are some behind the scene photos from the installation process.
As a member of the marketing team I shared images of the installation process on Facebook and Twitter, whilst also promoting the event and encouraging people to come to come pay us a visit.
Unfortunately on opening night I had work until 6.30pm which meant I was slightly late and couldn’t help prepare the space beforehand. However, it was a resounding success and attracted a large number of people which is really encouraging. I found the experience quite awkward and having people ask about your work is also very strange. Something I wasn’t really expecting. Since opening night people have contacted me via social networks complimenting me on “Gender Bender” as well as encouraging me to keep in going. The exhibition has made me realise that whilst university is coming to an end, these images can continue. Again I shared images from the night online.
However the following video created by Chris Trafford which shows the development of the exhibition as well as opening night captures the entire IMG19 experience far more aptly.
After Opening Night
I have continued to share my works online and have also covered shifts at the gallery. Today (3rd June 2014) I worked 10am-2pm with Tania and Alex. The gallery attracted a lot of people which was really nice to see and it was a good experience presenting myself as a professional and soon to be graduate of Coventry University.
My role in relation to the production of the degree show was as a participant of the marketing team to ensure the event gathered momentum, gained a lot of attention and achieved a sense of excitement for the works being displayed at the exhibition. It was important to market the event professionally and with the larger public to ensure the degree got a good response and turn out. This would help boost our reputability, be beneficial in promoting our work and also potentially gage future opportunities.
Social networking, self-promotion and behind the scenes footage shared online was and continues to be an efficient and easy way of promoting the exhibition whilst also having the potential to reach a large number of people. Working alone I have continued to share behind the scene photographs of my project and research on various networks including Facebook, Twitter and my blog. However, I could have done a lot more in promoting the degree show. I feel I should have begun sharing my work and creative processes sooner and more frequently. This would have assured a steady flow of interest within my project and the event. Upon reflection I feel I could have marketed myself and the exhibition a lot better if I had managed my time more effectively. I should have also promoted others works and shared them online to help gage a wider more varied audience.
The marketing team have continued to produce teasers to promote the event as well as posters, flyers and so on. Again due to my job and management of time I have been unable to fully participate in the production of these marketing materials. However, I have attended various meetings where decisions were made about the visual aspects of posters, flyers and leaflets and I submitted work to feature within them online. The degree show has made me realise the difficulty of working within a team and meeting at times where everyone is available. As a result, I ensured my works were available online and sustained contact with people via email and Facebook, proving that I could participate in the team, even if it was digitally.
Overall, I feel if I had managed my time more effectively and made more time for the marketing of the event more could have been achieved as a team member. However, using my own social network and self-promotion skills I have promoted my own works and gained online attention. I will continue to promote the event online and will also be working shifts at the gallery this week.
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For my final project I wanted to photograph individuals with alternative gender identities to highlight the fluidity of gender, raise more awareness of this social minority and show that true beauty is within the diverse. I wanted my images break the “norms”; address the “taboo”, challenge society, push boundaries and make social minorities voices heard but what’s more-seen. I wanted to find individuals whose identities reflect the broad spectrum of gender identity, to prove that there is far more to gender than just male and female, masculine and feminine.
Trans* individuals and those with other alternative gender identities remain to be an under-represented, marginalised and stigmatised section of society. However, by showing the public that gender is in fact nuanced and exists in multiple forms within any given person, not just those with alternative identities, perceptions of this minority will hopefully change. I want to show that these individuals are strong, empowered and beautiful, not vulnerable, excessive or strange. These individuals deserve to be seen and celebrated for their diversity.
I found my subjects through word of mouth, friends of friends and Facebook. I used my social media, networking and communication skills which have improved immensely through this process. I put out a statement on Facebook encouraging people who feel they have an alternative gender identity or feel they break away from the usually rigid gender binary to contact me and to model for the project. Below is the statement I posted and continued to share whilst searching for participants:
“Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a hugely rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (Judith Butler, Gender Trouble)
Gender is nuanced and exists in multiple forms within any given person. I propose to create simple studio portraits that contest the rigid gender binary and reinforce the idea that gender can be malleable. I will explore gender in its capacity to be reduced to individual components: a gesture, a hairstyle or flick of mascara, each element building to the complete performance.
If you are an individual who contests to the binary nature of gender and are interested in participating in this project to help re-define what beauty and gender really is please get into contact with me. I aim to provoke thought and invite the audience to question the identity before them. These images will introduce ambiguity, the status of masculine and feminine becoming an enigma and help change social perceptions of those with unique gender identities.
Requirements: Be yourself!
Wear whatever accessories or jewellery you like. Bring/wear a white t-shirt/top and underwear (for those who are comfortable to get down to their undies anyway!) If you are a drag artists bring you’re alter ego!
Where: 14 Lichfield St, Wolverhampton, West Midlands WV1 1DG
Shooting will take place at Dark Lens studio in Wolverhampton. This will be every Tuesday and Wednesday from 2pm onwards although these times can change to fit your schedule and to fit around Dark Lens bookings. I can give all the images unedited to you for you to keep if you would like them. I will edit a select few and will share them with you before they go anywhere! I will also give you final edited images (5 images)
These images will be exhibited at Lanchester Gallery in Coventry from 30th May-5th June as a part of my final degree show. Again you will have input on what images are used and not used.
Check out my blog of all my research so far and my photography pages:
This statement helped fuel a lot of interest in my project and was an easy and efficient way to encourage people to participate in the project. Once I had found my subjects I continually communicated with them, discussed ideas and met them in person before the shooting actually took place. Gender is a sensitive subject and being photographed for any person is a highly vulnerable experience. This was at the forefront of my mind at all times. My subjects comfort levels and opinions were of utmost importance to me. I wanted to make sure they felt comfortable with me to ensure I could capture them in their natural state. I wanted to capture their individuality in a dignified and quiet way.
Shooting has taken place over the last few months at Dark Lens studio based in Wolverhampton. Influenced by Ryan McGinley, Bettina Von Zwehl and Bettina Rheims I used a very simple studio set up, two soft boxes, one digital camera and a grey backdrop.
During the shooting process I had my subjects play music, mess about, take my picture and chill out with their friends. I did this so my subjects became relaxed which worked a treat when it came to getting the shots! Below are some behind the scenes pictures which I shared on Facebook also:
In terms of the visual aesthetics of the images I decided to use a grey back drop to reflect the notion of gender being grey as opposed to black and white as society expects and craves. Gender is not fixed, rather free-floating, which the colour grey denotes. It also reflects Kinsey’s grey scale of sexuality which was developed by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues Wardell Pomeroy and Clyde Martin in 1948, in order to account for research findings that showed people did not fit into neat and exclusive heterosexual or homosexual categories. Kinsey put forward the notion through his scale of sexuality that sex can be grey: not entirely homosexual or heterosexual and I feel this can also be said for gender identity. There exists so much more than male and female, masculine and feminine, as my research and images evoke.
I will now run through the visual decisions I made with my subjects for the portraits I created. The decisions have been influenced by all of the research and photographers I’ve mentioned in this module. Some visual concepts I maintained with all my subjects were such as looking off or away from the camera. I felt this empowered my subjects, as if their ambiguity was not a big deal to them so why should it be a big deal to the viewer?
Images from Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014 menswear collection were most inspirational with my shoot of Libs. The man for Yves Saint Laurent SS14 collection was youthful at heart. He donned red lips, sequinned or velvet jackets with thin black bow ties. The collection was all about glam rock and ambiguity. This style I re-created with Libs who performs as a man professionally, often channelling the styles and acts of fellow glam rock icon David Bowie. She adored the final images and will use them for her portfolio. Whilst ambiguity and gentleness were initially key to my project and these images move away from that as they are somewhat more “draggy” I still really liked them. Libs represents drag kings, female transvestism and the “performative” nature of gender, so was a key person I felt to include in my final project.
Drag artists highlight the constructedness and performative nature of gender: reinforcing that everything: acts, gestures, looks, styles and behaviours really are a parody. There is no “ideal”. There is no “core” gender for the sexes. Thus, everything becomes an imitation and Butler’s gender performativity theory is-or should-be deemed the real normality. These images feature a drag queen who clearly is a male dressed as a woman. It was a great experience and Bash is an electrifying character. He came to the studio in full blown drag wearing a corset, full face of make-up, wig and hells. His entire appearance reflected my research on femininity being a construction, artificial parts which can be taken on by anyone. Whilst the shooting process was a lot of fun and Bash reflects the extravagant drag queens out there, I decided not to include them in my final series/display at the exhibition. I felt they were too brash and aggressive compared to the other portraits I was creating and wanted my project to be more ambiguous where as these images are a lot more outlandish. Nonetheless, I do want to continue shooting those with more extravagant appearance such as glam drag queens as they do add a hint of sparkle to the immense gender spectrum.
This notion of naked and hidden, dress and undress may be why Bettina Rheims’ series entitled; “Gender Studies” is so intriguing and successful as a series exploring gender identity. It reinforces that element of mystic and ambiguity through the use of transparent and fleshy fabrics draped across her subjects. Rheims’ cleverly reveals certain body parts whilst hiding others, forcing the viewer to question what is feminine and masculine within the image. An outfit from Prada’s second line, Miu Miu, of spring summer 1997, also used transparent clothing to create ambiguity and blur gender lines. The outfits consisted of layers of transparent white cloth that both revealed and hid the body, hinting at innocence and artlessness on their childish vest and gym knickers shaping. The silhouette was blurred, femininity made hazy.
Upon sharing these images with my subjects, they were happy to emulate these styles due to the ambiguity they create. And so I had the majority of my subjects dress in white vest tops Lez being one of them. Vest tops are somewhat androgynous, unisex almost, further reinforcing and evoking gender as ambiguous and fluid. For this shoot I focused on Lez’s eyes and facial features similarly to the works of Claudia Moroni. The eyes capture the very essence of a person and Lez was more than comfortable for me to get up close and personal.
Again I had my subject dress in a tight white t-shirt, evoking ambiguity and creating a conflict between hidden and seen. I photographed him wearing subtle make-up and blonde wig, echoing images from Sofia Coppala’s Virgin Suicides and other stereotypical images of femininity in mainstream media. Shimmering golden locks seem to exercise a peculiar fascination and strong link to “ideal” feminine beauty. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the term “blondes have more fun” and we’re all aware of the iconic images of screen siren Marilyn Monroe. Fashion and beauty industries are also obsessed with youthfulness. And blonde hair is often associated with youth and beauty. And so for my shoot with Nath we agreed to shoot him a blond clearly artificially wig to reinforce both the artificiality of femininity and blonde hair being commonly taking as youthful and beautiful. I also wanted to reveal Nath’s actual sex, showing his capacity to adopt both feminine and masculine genders. And I shot him albeit the wig to reflect this.
Ambiguity was a key element in this shoot of Roxie and she was an absolute dream to photograph. As Roxie is a very fashion conscious individual, dreaming of one day becoming a mainstream supermodel, I allowed her to wear whatever clothing she wanted which she felt most beautiful in. I shared my research on fashion and gender and she particularly like the garments produced by Dolce & Gabbana in the 1980’s and 1990’s those Sicilian black dresses, which accentuated the female form, with softly corseted décolletage and visible underwear detailing. Dolce & Gabbana had been heavily influenced by the images of 1950’s Hollywood screen sirens and Roxie adored such images. And so I photographed Roxie wearing figure hugging black clothing, hiding and revealing her shape. Roxie also has piercings and tattoos which add to her overall image perhaps being “taboo”. They express her individuality and uniqueness.
Again I shot Rocky in a white T-shirt, a garment which is arguably unisex, thus blurring gender lines. Rocky was quite shy in front of the camera but that awkwardness which exudes from the images I feel is highly intriguing and adds further ambiguity. Rocky wore simple make-up, earrings and posed in feminine gestures. These images were simple and straightforward just as Rocky wanted.
For Anya she wanted to appear quite rocky and grungy so I referred back to my research on the Glam rock era and she brought with her, her own unique style. Heavily influenced by Bettina Von Zwehls portraits of people in profile, throughout the shoot I continued to photograph Anya from the side, which she too thought looked really effective. I prefer the ones of her looking away again because it reinforces ambiguity but they one I’ve featured above evidences how comfortable Anya is in her identity. Anya was a breeze and we got the shots almost instantly. I shot her in both white clothing and black to make her pop from the grey back drop as well as mocking the idea that gender is fixed or black and white.
With Jamie we wanted to channel Bowie and androgyny which I feel we achieved. Androgyny is all about combining both femininity and masculinity, creating truly mesmerizing and intriguing looks. To begin I shot Jamie topless with a full face of make-up. As the shoot continued we began to add more and more feminine items, the sorts of items usually associated with traditional femininity and often employed by drag queens. We added wigs, jewellery, bras, heels and a dress. However, it was the first initial images of Jamie that proved to be the most poignant. They were more subtle and soft, reinforcing that gender blurring isn’t a big deal but rather beautiful.
Overall, the shooting and creative process behind these images were most definitely considered and collaborative. I’ve referred back to all of the photographers, artists and images I’ve been researching over the past few months to change, re-define and renew my interest in the images I was producing. I wanted to create a series of portraits that highlight the fluidity of gender but what’s more the beauty, strength and dignity of those who aren’t afraid to break away from social “norms”. This is who they are and this is how they should be seen. In post production I de-saturated the colours and retouched the subjects skin. I changed the colours to resemble the works of the photographers I had been deeply inspired by including Bettina Von Zwehl and Bettina Rheims. Below are the final images for each of my “Gender Benders”
Before seeking subjects for my final project, I gathered some of my friends to do a gender bending photo shoot all of whom have alternative sexualities and identities. I echoed the visual aesthetics seen in Bettina Von Zwehl’s constructed portraits as well as Bettina Rheims mysterious series, ” Gender Studies”. I used a white backdrop and had my subjects wear white to heighten that sense of ambiguity which I knew from the beginning was what I wanted to achieve. I never actually got round to doing anything with these images but the creative process was a valid one and helped me make some drastic decisions which helped form what my final project has become today. I noted on the shooting experience:
Lessons learnt: use a high F stop! Some of the images were not as sharp as I would have hoped due to a low F stop so in future I will ensure before I get snappy happy that my settings are all set! I manage to salvage a few through post-editing but that shouldn’t have been necessary. I used the white studio, emulating the images created by Bailey and Rheims. However, I’ve had a change of heart. I feel my subjects would have been more striking if I had used a slightly darker background. The images where you can see a crease in the background I feel work better. As a result I hope to use a grey backdrop on my next shoots. Whilst I love the lightness and subtlety of Bettina Rhiems portraits of her gender bending beauties, I feel having a slightly more moody angle could be interesting. We’ll see.
And so from this experimentation, I decided I would shoot my subjects on a grey background to denote the idea of sex and gender being a grey area, not black or white. This would help denote the sense of ambiguity I craved. I also thought that I should not restrict my subjects to wearing only white. I still want them to appear individual and unique whilst accessories and props can help signal certain gender stereotypes, or maybe even mock them. Overall, the experience was helpful and I may get round to using these images in some way.
To find subjects for my project which explore the wide variety of people that make up the equally as varied (and complex) gender spectrum I began documenting the queer community by going out in gay bars. I got to know a few, although none of them actually feature in my final images, it was a delightful experience.
It’s taken me three years to discover that to be a good photographer, to get images that you like and are proud of, you can’t just sit on your backside and expect for magic to fall from the sky. I love portraiture, I love interesting people and so decided to, as I have my entire life, follow the people that interest me; the type that never yawn or say a common place thing. I took a disposable camera. I did continue to take my Nikon but thought it be too intrusive for what I sought to do. Below are the results from my outings with those of the queer scene: