Bettina Von Zwehl

 

By Bettina Von Zwehl

By Bettina Von Zwehl

I want to create simple but visually arresting and stylish images for my final degree show. I don’t want them to be elaborate or in your face, rather subtle and light. With this idea in mind, I was encouraged to look at the photographic works of Bettina Von Zhewl. Bettina von Zwehl was born in Munich in 1971 and received an MA from the Royal College of Art, London in 1999. She has built an international reputation for her subtle and unnerving photographic portraits.

Bettina Von Zwehl constructs captivating photographic portraits which have many of the same attributes as traditional still life paintings, where gender lines are often blurred and identities left ambiguous. This visual aesthetic of Von Zwehl’s images which share many of the same attributes to traditional still life painting is achieved through a combination of the sitters pose, quality of light and the use of a large 10×8 format camera which requires complete stillness from the sitter.

Von Zwehl’s aim is to capture something otherwise not revealed through her portraits, something I too want to do through my own portraits, she writes: “As an artist I am drawn to the intensity of the resulting image and the descriptive power of the format. My work is an ongoing enquiry into the possibilities of portraiture and its fine nuances. With each series, I aim to depict psychological states in everyday life using controlled conditions to search for some note of perfect balance in which the sense of an intimate humanity might be revealed.” I feel Von Zwehl manages to capture this intimate side of humanity through the ambiguity and silence of her images. They are gentle and in their gentleness something is revealed, a quiet dignity. For Von Zwehl this is achieved through capturing people in profile.

For almost a decade Von Zwehl has been researching the human profile and the hierarchic approach to portraiture that was applied during the Italian Renaissance. There is an uncanny quality to viewing a person in profile, related to what remains invisible and untold. This method of representation may have a cold, rigid aspect, with no indication of the subject’s true character or emotion. But for Von Zwehl capturing a human in profile is one of the most powerful ways of representing a person. And I can’t help but to agree. The ambiguity that can be achieved by shooting someone in profile is quite seductive, a visual technique I will bear in mind when creating my own images of gender bending individuals. My main aim is to keep the individuals I capture dignified and mystical: not aggressive and outlandish. Perhaps shooting them in profile could help in achieving this, similarly to the works of Von Zwehl.

References:

John Jones (N.D) Bettina Von Zwehl [online] available from<http://www.johnjones.co.uk/education/interviews/photographers/bettina-von-zwehl/&gt; (27th May 2014)

V&A (N.D)Photography Resident: Bettina von Zwehl [online] available from<http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/p/bettina-von-zwehl/&gt; (27th May 2014)

 

 

Love Magazine Androgyny Issue

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The presence of gender bending beauties in mainstream advertisements and catwalks proves how ideas surrounding gender “normalities” and “ideals” have changed dramatically over the last few years. But, of course, nothing in fashion is ever completely new. As I’ve been exploring throughout this research gender bending has been an “it” thing for quite some time.

 

April Ashley Shot by David Bailey

April Ashley Shot by David Bailey

Todd Oldham used to use transvestite Billy Beyond in his fashion shows. Joey Arias, also a transvestite, modelled frequently for Thierry Mugler in the late 1980s and is still a fashion muse. In the 1960s, April Ashley modelled for British Vogue and was photographed by David Bailey and Lord Snowden before her transsexual status was revealed in the tabloid press. Back then, it killed her career. Then there was Candy Darling, who became an actress and muse to Andy Warhol and, a decade later, transgender model and muse to Stephen Sprouse, Teri Toye. The “It” girl of the 1990s was Connie Girl, also a transsexual. Jenny Shimizu [the model Angelina Jolie was rumoured to have an affair with] was in a lot of campaigns in the 1990s. No one could tell whether she was a man or a woman. And no one really cared.

 

Nonetheless, I think it’s just grand that current magazine and fashion designers are including and celebrated those who are within the trans community and are continuing to blur gender “norms”. And Love Magazines Androgyny Issue did just that! Love Magazine released 4 covers. One of Kate Moss alone channelling a little Bowie and heroin chic; another of Lea T in an angelic pose; the next featured both Kate Moss and Lea T in a deep kiss, lensed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot with the headline “This is hard core” and finally an image of a pretty Justin Bieber titled, “The Beautiful One”, celebrating the soft man aspect of androgyny. This cover fuelled a blog of lesbians that are rampant gender benders and resemble Justin Bieber! Go check it out: Lesbians who look just like Justin Bieber.

This issue of LOVE Magazine proves that fashion and beauty ideologies are changing. Mainstream mass media seems to be embracing more diverse individuals but what’s more individuals with alternative gender identities like never before. It’s a really exciting thing to see and has inspired me to continue in my pursuit to create beautiful photographs of individuals that represent each and every aspect of the gender spectrum. Inspired!

References:

Telegraph (N.D) Fashion Blurs Gender Boundaries [online] available from<http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG8214923/Fashion-blurs-gender-boundaries.html&gt; (1st June 2014)

Lea T

“Even with surgery, I’ll never be a woman. And I will not be man. I’ll always be the middle” (Lea T for Quem Magazine)

Lea T

Lea T

Lea T, 28, is a transsexual model booking all the best campaigns fashion has to offer right now. But with her full lips, strong jaw line and dark tresses it’s not difficult to see why. She is the “ideal” high fashion package: tall, slender and with a distinctive face unlike no other. Her beauty is astounding so much so her gender identity would be the last thing on our minds. But it was at the forefront of T’s.

Part of T’s agreement to appear in Givenchy’s fall advertising campaign was that she was allowed to talk about her transgender status. When the images appeared in May her modelling agency, Women, was overwhelmed with 400 requests to interview her.

It was Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci’s idea to have Lea T in the campaign, helping to re-define not only ideas surrounding “ideal” beauty but also of gender.

“When you are a transsexual, you look for your future, and you can’t see it,” T told the New York Times in a recent interview. “I thought this would be a nice message for another tranny: ‘Look, we can be the same as other girls and boys.’ It’s small, but it makes you feel like you have a little chance. Maybe a transsexual will open a magazine and think: ‘That’s cool. We can be whatever we want.’ That’s why I did the Givenchy campaign.”

Lea T the Brazilian bombshell who was born Leandro is single handedly re-defining what it means to be beautiful in the 21st century, as an out and proud transsexual. It’s heart-warming and delightful to see. We can see T smiling on the cover of Vanity Fair, posing naked on the pages of French Vogue, kissing Kate Moss on the cover of LOVE, her beauty and ambiguity celebrated and seductive. Lea T proves that the fashion world is changing, perhaps even growing a conscious where individuals with alternative gender identities are now finding a firm and much welcomed place.

References:

The Observer (10th August 2010) Lea T and the loneliness of the fashion world’s first transsexual supermodel [online] available from<http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/01/fashion-transgender&gt;

 

Andrej Pejic

Andrej Pejic

Andrej Pejic

Andrej Pejic is an Australian supermodel who triumphantly models as both genders. In an interview for New York Times Magazine in 2011 Pejic stated, “I guess professionally I’ve left my gender open to artistic interpretation”. Pejic has become the ideal face for representing the revolutionary changes within current fashion trends as well as ideas surrounding beauty.

He is biologically male but can look every inch the next Elle McPherson. With a manly height on 6ft and 2 inches combined with sun kissed locks and minute facial features Pejic represents a new form of beauty- but what’s more a new form of identity, gender and normality. His unique physicality blurs the rigid gender binary to a magnificent degree, attesting to the performative nature of gender as well as challenging our ideas surrounding an “ideal” masculinity and femininity. With images of Pejic’s gender-bending face gradually becoming a recognisable part of fashions mainstream, the gender binary could soon become not only a thing of fashions past but more excitingly of society’s as well.

Pejic has walked in both men and women fashion shows for the past few years. He has taken to the catwalk for legendary designer Jean Paul-Gaultier on numerous occasions who described Pejic as an “other worldly beauty” and cast him as Gaultier’s bride in his spring 2011 couture show. But even for men’s shows Pejic is often dressed as a woman. For Gaultier’s 2011 menswear collection Pejic was seen dressed as Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent’s androgynous female muse. Now I’m sure many “normal” men may shudder at the idea of Pejic, a guy who they’d probably love to take home who wears dresses and poses in fashionable women’s designer gear, is the new form of “ideal” masculinity.

However, it’s hard to resist. Pejic’s entire appearance is a delicate combination of traditionally feminine attributes as well as masculine. It forces us to question what is feminine and what is masculine? So far so I wouldn’t blame any heterosexual man to fall in awe of Pejic’s outstanding beauty! The existence of such an extraordinary gender-bending identity reinforces gender as a construct, which can be de-constructed and reduced to parts. But what physical attributes reveal Pejic’s biological sex? Pejic has the faintest trace of Adam’s apple, strong jawline, plump lips, feline cheekbones and skinny physique. The combination of these delightfully bewildering characteristics are I feel why Pejic is so successful, something Oscar Montero explores when describing what it is that makes drag queens so seductive.

In “Lipstick Vogue: The Politics of Drag” Montero states “The imperfection of her imitation is what makes her appealing, what makes her eminently readable. Fool proof imitations of women by men, or men by women are curious, but not interesting. There has to be some tell-tale, not the gross five o’clock shadow or the limp wrist of the amateur, but something readable, a foot that is too big, a subtle gesture or the peculiar grain of the voice”. This summarises the beauty and allure of Pejics beauty. It’s not full proof and we seek to find what is masculine and feminine.

For me what gives Pejic’s game away is his flat chest. However, as slimness has long been deemed “ideal” by fashions standards, perhaps his flat chest really is the epitome of femininity! It seems that boy breasts are fine but girl breasts are not. But what happens when you can’t tell one from the other like in Pejics case? Should we be estimating breast volume when deciding when to filter the image and when not? If so Google has their work cut out for them! But anyway with the appearances of models such as Andrej Pejic in mainstream visual media and fashion campaigns it’s clear that ideas surrounding “ideal” femininity are changing. Hoorah!

Just to point out I’m still not entirely sure if Pejic is a male or female. May I propose a penis slip sometime soon?!

References:

Anne of Carversville (N.D) Pretty Boy’ Andrej Pejic Talks Sex, Love & Leaving His Gender to ‘Artistic Interpretation’ [online] available from<http://www.anneofcarversville.com/sensuality/2011/8/15/pretty-boy-andrej-pejic-talks-sex-love-leaving-his-gender-to.html&gt; (16th May 2014)

Montero, O (1988) Lipstick Vogue: The Politics of Drag. Radical America 22,1:41

 

 

Stoya, Sherman and The Artificiality of Femininity

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Stoya is a pornstar with a difference. Stoya is highly intelligent, beautiful and not one to shy away from breaking social stereotypes and “norms”. Remember the image of her gender bending for fashion photographer Steven Klein which I spoke about earlier in the year? Yeah, that’s her and she’s still rocking out with other top notch photographers.

stoyaa

Recently, she blurred gender boundaries once more and also highlighted the notion of femininity being a construct with the capacity to be reduced to mere parts. The series with the apt tagline “Stoya as you’ve never seen her” embodied many parts of my research into gender identity and fashion. Stoya appears as a Hollywood starlet in grainy black and white portraits, reminscient to female screen icons of the 1950’s that have continued to influence ideas of “ideal” femininity. She appears submissive and soft, further reinforced by the visual aesthetics that echo movies scenes from the period. Coiffed hair, pursed lips and big eyes, Stoya appears every bit the old Hollywood siren.

Stoya-Wall-Edit01 Stoya%2009%20FINAL%20Print

In other images we see Stoya reveal all, resembling the photography of Helmut Newton, again echoing stereotypical notions that are usually associated with images of women: submissiveness, nudity and sexuality. But what I like about these images is how the photographer reveals the constructive and artificial nature of femininity. We see Stoya dressed in heals and figure hugging clothing. Each image that precedes the one previous an item of clothing is removed until finally we’re left with the slender and naked figure of Stoya. It reveals how femininity can be reduced to a high heel or skirt.

Cindy Sherman’s photography also reveals the constructed nature of femininity. Throughout the 1970’s American artist Cindy Sherman created her Untitled Film Stills series. Each image within the series represents a single figure of a woman portrayed in a scenario, mimicking visual aspects of 1950’s-60’s black and white films. Sherman is the model and photographer, thus becoming the observer and observed. The images reinforce a number of provoking notions in relation to gender and gender construction. Sherman is the only model that appears yet adopts a number of feminine types from movies, thus reinforcing that femininity can literally be performed, changed and adapted by just one person.

Sherman proves that femininity is a popular constructed concept, a cultural code, as opposed to being naturally inherent to females. Sherman’s images also confront issues surrounding images of women such as sexualisation and objectification. She puts into question, “who is being represented, and by whom is this projection of “femininity” being constructed and for whom” (Cotton, 2010 p.193). In more recent series, Sherman is seen in heavy make-up and ill-fitting prosthetic facial and body parts. These shocking transformations reinforce further that identity is an imitation, gender a construction.

Overall, these images have been highly inspirational and prove that gender is a construction, fluid with no essential origin.

References:

The Unlimited (28th October 2013) Stoya Like You’ve Never Seen. [online] available from<http://theunlimitedmag.com/blog/2013/10/28/stoya&gt; (5th May 2014)

Cotton, C (2010) Revived and Remade: The photograph as cotemporary art. Thames & Hudson; 2 edition 191-197

MoMA (2012) Cindy Sherman [online] available from <http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1170&gt; [24 February 2014]

ARTnews (2012) The Cindy Sherman Effect [online] available from <http://www.artnews.com/2012/02/14/the-cindy-sherman-effect/> %5B18 February 2014]

354MC Task 4 and Other Parts

354MC Task 4 

Dissemination- A concise distribution/dissemination plan explaining who you see as potential recipients of this portfolio, demonstrating an awareness of your audience and the context in which you are or will be working.

“…fashion is obsessed with gender, defines and redefines the gender boundary” (Wilson 1985:117).

Fashion is always changing. The seasons change; hemlines, collars and cuffs change. This relentless metamorphosis is exciting, overwhelming and increasingly demanding. Fashion and visual media constantly re-presents the world to us, providing versions of ourselves that are healthier, happier and more successful. Magazines tempt us with the promise of quick bikini diets to meet the svelte ideals of fashion campaigns. They flaunt ineffectual products for younger pore-less skin, whilst endorsing their impressive Photoshop skills. We are bombarded with an unrealistic “ideal” of masculinity and femininity with its sights set exclusively on the skinny, young and cisgender. Visual media and fashion sell us much more than products and representations, they tell us who we are and who we should be. Influential in constructing gender roles, omnipresent visual media instils and reinforces the collective expectations of gender, beauty but what’s more “normalcy”. The result – body image, homophobia, transphobia and sexism issues still permeate our culture.

Trans* identities and other individuals who contest the rigid gender binary are still considered “outside” the “norm” and are under-represented compared to their lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts. Fashion, however, is in a state of immense transformation, embracing uniqueness where gender bending has fast become all the rage. Undoubtedly fashion does more than just change – fashion causes change. Through fashion as well as visual media we are able to break the “norms”, address the taboo, challenge society, push boundaries and make our voices heard. Fashion is, at this current moment in 2014, challenging the rigid gender binary and what is beautiful like never seen before!

Transgender model Lea T is the face of Givenchy and was seen kissing Kate Moss for the cover of Love Magazine’s Androgyny Issue. Andrej Pejic who leaves his gender “open to artistic interpretation” walks in both men’s and women’s fashion shows for Jean Paul Gaultier and poses in both genders for numerous other mainstream fashion campaigns. Lady Gaga has a male alter ego Jo Calderone. Fashion designer Marco Marco uses drag queens from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to model his flamboyant garments which are worn by a number of mainstream cisgender celebrities including Katy Perry and Fergie. Barney’s Spring 2014 advertisements featured seventeen transgender models in black and white photographs by Bruce Weber. Fashion photographer Steven Klein shot an androgynous Stoya for A5 magazine and Chanel featured models with moustaches for their 2014 cruise campaign. Gender blurring and individuality are bang on trend.

Over the last couple of years mainstream culture has started in earnest to breakdown the male/female gender binary and, with that, embrace the 50 shades of difference that lie in between. Thus, my photographs of gender bending, ambiguous individuals who embrace their individuality and move away from the gender binary can definitely find a place in the current fashion world’s agenda. Whilst trans* identities, drag queens and socially defying identities are becoming more and more mainstream, I like to feel that my images are slightly different to others out there representing trans*identities as they highlight them for their diversity and beauty as opposed to their alternative genders and physical genitalia.

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. 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 may reside in diversity.

I hope that the recipients of my portfolio will be other photographers and professionals who are interested in gender, sexuality, identity and fashion and want to change the representation of such alternative identities.

Gender Matters is a charity based in Wolverhampton which provides a comprehensive programme of practical support, counselling, advice and information for anyone with any questions or problems concerning their gender identity, or whose loves ones are struggling with gender identity issues. The programme aims are to relieve the mental, emotional and social stress of anyone affected by Tran’s issues, providing a confidential and professional service to all beneficiaries at all times.

Gender Matters was recently funded by the Heritage Lottery for an exhibition entitled “Mapping My Journey” at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery mapped the identities of Birmingham and West Midland transgender individuals to raise awareness to gender identity issues featuring photography, poems and artworks showing the trans* community in a light which truly shone. Gender Matters is constantly in search and advertising opportunities for artists to get involved in creative projects and I’d love to share my portfolio with them.

I also hope to assist and find jobs within the fashion industry, particularly with those who have informed my own practice and who I find extremely inspirational. I would love to share my portfolio with photographers like Sarah Davidmann, Claudia Moroni and Bettina Rheims whose works feature alternative gender identities in a beautiful and dignified way. This could potentially lead to an apprenticeship, assistant opportunity or for some general feedback from professionals I really admire.

I would like my portfolio to be shared with fashion magazines as gender and androgyny are very much hot topics right now. I would like to consider contacting Vice, Pigeons and Peacocks and Love Magazine, as these brands often explore the taboo and offer opportunities for fresh new ideas and talent.

I will feature my digital portfolio online: on my blog and other social networks to ensure it is easily accessible for anyone to view. I will email my portfolio and websites to potential recipients as this is fast and efficient.

Looking back should address the following points:

  • your key role/s around producing the degree show and appropriate show cases for your works.
  • what existing skills you drew upon and which new skills you learned
  • what you felt went well and what could have been improved
  • collaborative work vs work you did alone.

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. The works featured explore a range of topics and subjects by fresh new and upcoming talent and it was important that this was shared with the larger public to ensure the degree got a good response and turn out.

Social networking, self-promotion and little behind the scenes 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. It’s of utmost importance that our work is easily accessible for everyone and so I ensured my work was available to view on all the networks available. Working alone I have continued to share behind the scene photographs of my project and research on various networks including Facebook, Twitter, my blog and the Img19.org website, which we as a class created to sustain and gain awareness of the degree show.

I drew upon my existing social networking and communication skills, which I have developed throughout university. Social media is free and has the potential to be shared and circulate between a large numbers of individuals. I feel that I should have begun sharing my works and creative processes sooner and more frequently. This would have assured a steady flow of interest within my project and me as a professional. Upon reflection I feel I could have marketed myself and the exhibition a lot better if I had managed my time more effectively. As mentioned earlier I should have aimed to post something daily or weekly for sustainability and in gaining momentum for the show.

The marketing team have continued to produce videos and teasers to promote the event. Again due to my job and management of time I have been able to fully participate in the production of these videos. However, I have attended various meetings and submitted work to feature within them. As well as this, I have created my own videos and published my own behind the scene footage to create a sense of hype for the project. The degree show has made me realise the difficulty of working within a team and meeting at times where everyone is available. I have and will continue in promoting and creating posters for the event alone due to clashing schedules but share everything with the team via email and social networks before anything is finalised.

I feel we as a team should have arranged and created a schedule which meant all members could attend. However, the marketing team have made everything available online as have I, proving that we can work together even if it’s digitally! 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 organisation, communication, social network and self-promotion skills I have promoted my own works and gained online attention for the exhibitions through behind the scene images, tweets and posts.

Looking forward- The remaining 500 words are for you to outline your 6-month plan for the future. It might be helpful for you to consider this from the following angles:

  • WHAT: which projects; which jobs. Include mention of anything you have definitely lined up as well as things you intend to initiate or continue by yourself
  • WHY: why this project/job is important. To you and/or in a wider context; professionally and artistically
  • WHO: who will you be working with, who would you like to work with, who or which institutions/companies/organisations would you like to target and at what stages in the project.
  • HOW: brief description of your methodology. Which existing skills you will use; which additional skills you may need to pick up or develop further.

Over the next six months I will carry on working as an assistant photographer for working professionals Edward Taylor of Digital Flow based in Coventry and Darren Key of Dark Lens based in Wolverhampton. Here I will continue to cover live music events, burlesque shows, weddings and studio fashion and portrait shoots as I have done for the past two years. I want to continue in building my portfolio and develop my Photoshop, lighting and studio skills in an environment I’m used to. This will not only be helpful when producing my own work but will make me more sufficient when wanting to pursue other job opportunities and assistant jobs. I want to improve my technical skills and build a portfolio I’m proud of to ensure I’m confident and ready when pursuing bigger companies and professionals. However, I do want to broaden my horizons beyond the midlands.

I hope to eventually find a sustainable job in London due to increased opportunities. Philip Banks, a friend and assistant photographer based in London, has worked with numerous magazines, fashion campaigns and world renowned photographers. Over the summer I’ve been offered the chance to work alongside Banks in the studio he works in regularly based in London. Here I will assist on various shoots for fashion magazines and campaigns, both mainstream and non-mainstream. This will be a great opportunity in gaining new contacts and building professional relationships which could lead to permanent work. Throughout university networking, communication skills and the capacity to use initiative when working alone as well as being able to work within a team have been the main skills I have acquired and will continue to use and develop during this opportunity. I will use and develop my current knowledge of studio equipment; lighting and set up as well as improve on my Photoshop skills.

As well as gaining new experiences as an assistant photographer I would like to continue with my personal project entitled “Gender Benders” a series of studio portraits of individuals that defy social and gender “norms”. I hope to revolutionize the representation of alternative identities in mainstream visual media by showing them in a more quiet and ambiguous light. Individuals have already begun to contact me after seeing my images on various social media sites and through word of mouth, which is hugely encouraging.

I may even create a book of my portraits which I may try and get published after some encouragement from my lecturer Jonathon Worth. I hope to share my images from the series with various fashion magazines and photographers whose works explore issues surrounding gender, identity and sexuality such as Rheims, Moroni or Davidmann as mentioned earlier. This could create assistant or apprentice opportunities or even simply feedback from those who I admire. Worth has also suggested that I enter some of my images into photography competitions including Taylor Wessing. This would be a great chance for me to present myself as a professional, give the series momentum and gain more public attention but what’s more it will make these alternative identities all the more mainstream and give them the positive exposure they deserve, thus encouraging Tran’s equality within society and encouraging diversity.

Reflective Summary of CU Exit Plan

Upon finishing my degree at Coventry University I will continue to work as an assistant photographer for Darren Key of Dark Lens based in Wolverhampton and Edward Taylor of Digital Flow based in Coventry. By sustaining these assistant jobs I am able to attain regular work ensuring a steady income, a strong working relationship with professional individuals and the opportunity to continue in building my own portfolio. Whilst continuing to assist for these well-established photography companies I will also be able to build upon and improve my communication, technical, lighting and Photoshop skills in an environment I feel comfortable to grow within before branching off to larger companies. As well as continuing to work with Dark Lens and Digital Flow I hope to assist photographers and other professionals I find truly inspiring and who I feel will improve my photographic skills and inform where I might situate myself and my work in the future.

I am deeply interested in issues surrounding gender, sexuality and identity and the notion that gender is free-floating. The often stigmatized and marginalized individuals whose identities move away from the rigid gender binary should be celebrated for their diversity, creativity and beauty, something which fashion is currently embracing. Fashion doesn’t just change. Fashion causes change. The increasing number of transgender models like Lea T in mainstream fashion campaigns or Drag Queens engulfing our TV screens; proves that gender “normalities” and “ideals” are in a state of a much welcomed transformation. These representations are helping to re-define gender beauty but what’s more gender “norms”.

As a result of this I would love to work with photographers, magazines and companies that work within the fashion industry that push gender boundaries and revel in exploring the “taboo”. I would love to assist photographers like Sarah Davidmann, Claudia Moroni or Bettina Rheims. All their work encompasses the personal and social, questioning the relationship between the individual and society. Davidmann, Moroni and Rheims have been transforming the stereotypical notions of Tran’s individuals in the United Kingdom through beautiful images which hold a strong political agenda. To work alongside such individuals will help inform my own project, broaden my skills and build relationships with higher status professionals who could perhaps lead me to bigger things. I would also like to approach magazines and companies like Vice, Pigeons and Peacocks and Love, all of which explore gender and sexuality continually.

I hope to continue my body of work entitled, “Gender Benders” which features a range of individuals which attest to the gender binary. Individuals have already contacted me wanting to participate in the project which is really encouraging and I will continue to search for more. I want the project to highlight the fluidity of gender and give those with alternative identities the representation they deserve. It’s important that trans individuals continue to be seen to help change society’s rigid perceptions of beauty and gender “norms” making for a more diverse and brighter future.

Task 3 Interview Reflection

Gender, sexuality and identity have been my focus over the last year and so when it came to choosing individuals to interview my motives were clear.

I wanted to interview professional photographers exploring these topics who have produced work I have found to be inspirational. It was important that their work evoked my passion and genuine interest for the benefit of my own work but also so I might grasp the interviewees’ attention and illicit their prompt response.

I interviewed Italian-born, London-based Claudia Moroni, whose series entitled “Animus/Anima” encompasses gender boundary breaking individuals and has been a source of inspiration to me. Due to the distance and clashing schedules it was easier to conduct the interview via email. I contacted Claudia via Facebook, her website and her personal email. This was efficient, straightforward and she responded the same day! In return for the interview I featured the interview online and included her websites and links, thus broadening her audience. This interview displayed the importance of online accessibility. Claudia is reachable via several easily available networks. Awareness of this as a professional will ensure I develop and capitalise on opportunities, such this one with Claudia.

As well as speaking to photographers producing inspirational works, I wanted to speak with others employed in my current role, as assistant photographers. Presently, I work in and around the Midlands but I aspire to assisting for bigger companies, brands and photographers in larger cities like London. I contacted a friend, photographer’s assistant Philip Banks, hoping to find what difficulties I may face and how I too could pursue and find assistant jobs in London. Again it was easier to conduct the interview via email. I created the questions first and forwarded them as a document. I felt this more satisfactory as it meant Philip could think and read through the questions before having to answer them off the cuff. With consideration I feel there are many more questions I could have asked which have been beneficial to me for when I begin hunting for assistant jobs. Nonetheless, the interview was elating and has definitely encouraged me to pursue this career path.

Finally, I wanted to interview an individual whose identity defies social norms. A male to female transsexual agreed to share her story. Gender is an increasingly sensitive topic and must be about the individual. This is their story, their identity, and I must at all times be aware that this project is not about me, but these inspirational individuals. I met the interviewee in her home and recorded our conversation. Keeping it informal, I prepared a few questions, which I emailed to her beforehand, allowing her to veto as she wished. Upon reflection I feel a more constructed outline for the interview would have benefitted but feel just recording and talking with the interviewee more casually made her feel more relaxed in sharing her life changing experiences.

354MC Interview 3

Kate*

Throughout my research on gender identity I’ve come across countless documentaries and stories about young trans individuals. And I wondered: what about those individuals who transition come later in life? What is it really like for them? For me the older generation of transsexuals quickly became my main area of interest and subject I was most intrigued by. I find it astounding how in some cases the individuals don’t do anything about their conflict for centuries! Those who have successfully established their gender role within society who have good jobs, friends, have become parents and formed life long partners through marriage, all very convincingly. Suddenly, for whatever reason, they can no longer deny or repress whom they really are for any longer and decide to take action.

In some respects I think this delay in sex realignment or ‘coming out’ could be due to the period of time these older individuals were born and raised in. They may have come from a time where there was not much information on being transgender. As a result, they were forced to believe it was only a phase and maybe something every person has felt at some stage. In modern society being transgender and SRS has become more understood and accepted so maybe this has impacted on the older generations decision to change. Either way, deciding to transition at a later stage in life is inevitably more challenging and difficult as opposed to those who are younger. The identity, physicality and gender role of these individuals have already been cemented within every aspect of their life, thus the individual risks losing and impacting on everything in their life. They must be ready and willing to rebuild their entire life, learn how to be the gender they have always felt they were, begin to tell others, all in order to become the person they really are. I find it completely admirable and inspiring but envy them I do not! Transsexuals feel their assigned sex at birth is wrong and their correct sex is one that matches their internal feelings. The media and society have a strange stereotyped image of what a transsexual person is which doesn’t reflect their reality. They are people like everybody else, all trying to find their place in the world.

I wanted to speak to these individuals first hand to help broaden my knowledge on gender identity issues and the difficulties, triumphs but what’s more the realities of being a transsexual living in the U.K, particularly an older transsexual as I feel they are less represented. Over the last few weeks I have spoken with *Kate a 52 year old male to female transsexual. Through this process I have come to learn a lot more about the process an individual has to go through when re-aligning their sex and life thereafter. Kate made it quite clear from the get go that she does not want to be seen as transsexual. Kate has mentally always been female and now her physical body aligns with that. As a male, Kate tried to become as masculine as possible, played rugby, got married and became a father. As young as 5 years old, Kate knew that she did not quite fit into her gender or any other box society set out for her. She was “playing a role” a role she thought was expected of her within society. Eventually, living a lie became too much, “It was either suicide, or the other option…I just go for it”. At 49, Kate embarked on the journey to find happiness and become who she really is.

I decided to conduct an interview with Kate, which she was happy for me to do as we had been speaking with one another for quite some time about her journey and life as a transsexual. I prepared some interview type questions, which I emailed through to Kate first to allow her to process and think of what she would like to say before actually conducting the interview. I went to visit her in her home alongside her son and partner. I wanted to ensure she felt as comfortable as possible as this is a deeply sensitive issue to speak only about. Whilst I had prepared questions and formulated a structure, the interview became increasingly informal and more like a conversation. Below is a recording of our full conversation, where Kate shares her entire story from being a male, to transitioning to her today. Its deeply moving and I’m incredible grateful and thankful she was willing to share her story.

Reflection

The interview became exceedingly casual and relaxed, more like a conversation as opposed to a formal question and answer type interview. However, given the topic and how personal this sharing of information was I feel that if it had been more formal it would have taken away that sense of humility and honesty. I feel I could have interacted more and asked more questions during the conversation. However, I wanted to giver Kate plenty of time to communicate her story, take breathers, allow her to breakdown, rebuild herself and than return to the conversation when she was ready as opposed to firing questions at her over and over again. This interview made me realise the turmoil and difficulties trans* individuals have to encounter on a nearly daily basis.

These individuals have to conquer so much, it’s really admirable and has encouraged me to continue to interview trans* individuals and continue to show them in a positive but what’s more accurate light. I feel recording our conversation as opposed to conducting an interview via email, made Kate’s story all the more personal and candid. These are her words; this is her story uninterrupted and unedited. Some technical errors were made during the recording process however as I had to change memory cards, which meant I had to stop and restart recording. Nonetheless, it was a really inspiring and elating experience and has spurred me to interview more non-conforming individuals to ensure that their voices and stories continue to be heard. Speaking with Kate has taught me more about gender identity issues and reminded me that my focus should always be on my subjects, as them as individuals and not myself.