Sara Davidmann Lecture Notes (06.11.13)

"Robert and me, me and Robert" Sara Davidmann

“Robert and me, me and Robert” Sara Davidmann

Storify Notes

Davidmann first started working with photography in 1999. She initially worked as a painter then moved to sculpture. In 1999 Davidmann had an exhibition of her sculptures and a drag queen named, Millie Mock, went to a private view. Millie inspired Davidmann toward working with the transgender community and within photography. Davidmann’s fine art background manifests within her images.

The collaborative element is key and important in producing Davidmann’s work. But how does one gain such access and become trusted? It’s a delicate and controversial subject. The fact their transgender may not be known in their everyday life, it’s important to allow the subjects to be in full control of what is seen and known. Davidmann believes there is still a strong sense of Tran phobia in society so doesn’t want the images to impact the life of her subjects in a negative way; life is more important.

The collaboration process continues way after the initial image making. Davidmann allows her subjects to control where the images are seen, what images are shown and where their voice and interviews are heard. This is of the upmost importance. Before, Davidmann’s previous works it was about telling her own stories but now it’s about sharing the stories of others. When telling the stories of others one must be respectful and always aware of that fact. Photography was the medium to use in order to tell these stories. Upon reflection Davidmann feels her development from painting, to sculpture to photography was an organic process and made perfect sense.

Davidmann had a small compact camera, which had a snap shot aesthetic that she used for her travels. It was very useful and became her chosen tool to take photographs of people in the transgender community. She photographed them everywhere all the time with the small compact camera. Davidmann felt that maybe if she had used a bigger camera to take the images it might have been too intrusive. The tool you use can impact on the image making. Davidmann always asked the ‘trans’ first if she could take their image. One was always respectful to them as human beings. Her earliest work of transgender people was published as a book titled, ‘Crossing the Line’ (2003). The book and series encapsulates Davidmann’s development within photography, learning how to work with people and those within the transgender community. Holds something quite special for her.

‘In The Picture’ was influenced by Davidmann’s PHD (2003-2007) work, exploring what photography means for the people she was working with. Each person had a different relationship with her and with photography. Kitty, for example, had a very strong sense of image and how she wanted to be represented and seen. Kitty adored images of the oriental and wanted to be posed in this way. Davidmann and Kitty constructed the environment. Davidmann also used a mirror to allow Kitty to see what she looked like. She created the images on a medium format camera, which meant Kitty could not see the images immediately and forced them both to slow down and be more thoughtful in the image making. Once the contact sheets and images were ready both participants were delighted and Kitty adored one image in particular.

Kitty In The Picture

“In the Picture-Kitty” Sara Davidmann

Davidmann was thrilled that she managed to create an image that Kitty was happy to be seen as. It was a really fulfilling and enlightening experience.  A chance to show a ‘trans’ to the public how they want to be seen, not how society sees. Kitty was someone who had trouble interacting in public spaces. She was recognisably transgender and the public were just awful toward her, all because of the way she looked. And so the fact Davidmann and Kitty had created an image of her which she was proud of was not only important and empowering for Kitty. This process and similar experiences occurred with other subjects there after. It made Davidmann realise the importance of body image, participation and representation. Aroused questions such as, ‘Why do they want to be seen in this way?’ ‘What does it mean to them to be seen in this image?’ ‘What can we do not only in creating this image but in telling their story?’ In regards to telling the story Davidmann began incorporating text to further enhance participation and control to the subjects being depicted. She would have the trans write passages of what they felt when viewing their image.

It’s a mediated process where mechanics and apparatus are important. The process and tools used is dependent on the project and subject for Davidmann. The processes are constantly evolving. Davidmann always uses her Mamiya RZ. It’s easy and a tool she knows well which saves time and fuss. The tool should always be an extension of you.  Sometimes Davidmann will use a dslr out of convenience or to allow her subjects to see their image immediately, but not always. The images produced from film allow Davidmann to print large which exude an exquisite quality.

Before, Davidmann will always work intensively with people that she knew but for her current project she’s also photographing strangers. As a result, Davidmann has begun to take her laptop to the shoots, in order for her subjects to see all the images immediately after. They then get to choose what images she may keep and delete. That way Davidmann never leaves with images that the subjects are not happy with.  Authorship is still on Davidmann’s part but the subjects get to interact and choose. “I don’t want to put images into the public that they hate!” instead Davidmann wants them to be happy and proud of the images. Trans have been marginalised in Western culture and society, projected as deviants, tragic and isolated, but this couldn’t be further from the reality, “They’re amazing and live very full happy lives”. Davidmann wanted to break this dreadful stereotype, which is why it was so important that the images that would go public, the subjects depicted were proud of them.

"View Point-Kitty" Sara Davidmann

“View Point-Kitty” Sara Davidmann

“View Point”. Davidmann wanted to reclaim her role as photographer as well as her perspective, which is apart of her process.  “The work is just as much about me as it is about them”. Photographed people she knew really well including her adoptive daughter and friend Robert, who she would ask to think. She had the subjects’ lye down and placed the camera very high up on a tripod to create an interesting angle, people often think they are upside down! The series draws a parallel with these images and those within society, a perspective, which is pushed on transgender people. Society’s view is only one view and should not be the definitive viewpoint of trans. There are many viewpoints. Upon displaying and sharing the images from “View Point” Davidmann printed them as huge images, 5ft in height, they’re somewhat iconic. Davidmann then has one print, which is very small. This creates a contrast to the rest of the images. The large prints force the viewer to stand back to appreciate the image in its entirety whilst the small one denotes holiness and preciousness, forcing the viewer to get close. It allows the viewer to also be a participant. The images also manifest fine art elements; the backgrounds are of luscious fabrics and textiles carefully chosen by Davidmann. It emphasises this sense of richness and Godliness, almost like Royal images, very different to how society portrays trans.

"Robert and me, me and Robert" Sara Davidmann

“Robert and me, me and Robert” Sara Davidmann

‘Robert and Me, Me and Robert’ is a series where Davidmann put herself in the image. This triggered from Davidmann pondering whether taking somebody’s image was just taking and nothing else.  She also recognised an unbalance of power as her subjects would be naked and she would be fully clothed capturing their nakedness. As a result, Davidmann photographed herself and her very close friend for years, Robert in his flat. Photography was the centre of their relationship. They took it in turns to be clothed, naked, photographer and subject, using a cable to decide when the shutter would go off. This gave both participants the chance to have some control in the image making. Whilst Davidmann was clothed and Robert naked she asked, “Do you mind?” He laughed, “I’m looking at you as much as you are looking at me”. Davidmann thought this was amazing and is now frequently photographed and aligned with her subjects in her images of trans.

‘Ken to be destroyed’ taps into ideas and issues surrounding the archive, secrets, family and family albums. Davidmann discovered that her late Uncle Ken (or Kay) had been transgender after her mother decided to tell her once she saw her daughters interest and work with trans. Her mother was desperate for Davidmann to keep it a secret. However, she simply couldn’t. To deny her uncle was wrong. Therefore, Davidmann began a project. She interviewed her aunt, which was extremely moving. A wife who had to deal with the impact of having a husband who wanted to be a woman as well as having to conform to 1950’s British society, care and protect her children as well as maintaining her marriage. Davidmann created a series of her Mothers diaries, “My Mothers Notebooks” which are fascinating and reveal this huge family secret. These projects show how the family album itself is curated and controlled. Davidmann is having a conversation with the family album/archives. We don’t photograph things that we don’t want to remember or family issues.

Work is being exhibited 6th November 2013, Unity Theatre, Liverpool.

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