Photographer SD Holman uses her talent as a portrait photographer to capture women who fall outside of the traditional gender binary. In her series “BUTCH: Not Like the Other Girls,” masculine women are not oddity or other. These are photos of women who identify as butch captured by a butch woman—they are women defining themselves. In this way, Butch has much in common with the current social campaigns stripping women of makeup, enhancements, and retouching and declaring them more beautiful without the artifice. This is part of Holman’s intent with the show—to use the Butch identity as an example of one of the classifications through which women are objectified. The difference though is the hate and fear that Butch women have faced as transgressors of societal constructs of femininity. Holman says:
“Butches and all gender variant folk walk in a world that is really hostile to them, so we tend to look inward. I was inspired to show their beauty by my wife Catherine, a femme who loved butches, and encouraged me to do this when I started talking about it.”
The rich diversity of butch women is evidenced here. Just as there isn’t one way to be a woman, Butch includes women of all shapes and colors and styles. The fluidity of gender is apparent in each photo.
Holman is an artist. Her portraits are classically beautiful, with their artful lighting and dramatic contrasts. The subjects mostly gaze through the lens to the viewer, unapologetic and authentic. There is no contrivance in these images, no sense of willful provocation nor is there any sense of apology. Author Amy Bloom writes, “Intimacy is being seen and known as the person you truly are.” These photos are intimate and groundbreaking, brave and matter-of-fact, beautiful and handsome.
In the digital age and generation of the selfie, a spiraling and often disorienting importance placed on consumerism and commodities permeates even the most remote of regions. Through the billboard jungles and beehive of mass media, images relentlessly promoting youth and sexuality haphazardly depict ideals of femininity. Creating a wormhole of inadequacies, the female form has found itself in a constant tug-of-war in either defending its natural state or scrambling to correct propagated notions of aesthetic shortcomings. As Barbara Kruger famously stated on one of her notorious gelatin silver prints from the 1980’s, “You Are Not Yourself”.
The following artists featured turn these preconceived notions on their head while reconstructing a refreshing narrative of female sexuality and identity. Featured artists include Laura Aguilar, Aimee Hertog, Heather Cassils, and Marina Santana.
In the wake of a horrific incident in which Sasha Fleischman, an 18 year old “agender” youth, was set on fire after falling asleep on a bus in the Bay Area, San Francisco Magazine commissioned photographer Chloe Aftel to capture a series of portraits of young people (including Fleischman) who defy the male/female gender binary.
Aftel’s “Agender” series seeks to raise awareness of an overlooked and misunderstood community of gender fluid people who face oppression and harassment simply for not conforming. Preferring terms like “genderqueer” and “nonbinary” and the pronoun “they” over “he” or “she”, this growing community includes people who identify across the gender identity spectrum, from agender (neither male nor female) to bi-gender (both male and female) to gender-fluid (shifting from male to female).
“They have a real strength of character and complete clarity about who they are,” Aftel told Vocativ. “I found it fascinating that there is this whole group of people galvanizing the debate about what gender is, and to a certain extent, what love is and what self-expression is. It’s about what works for you.” (via feature shoot and policymic)
Kara Walker’s new sculpture “A Subtlety” is pure white, coated in 160,000 pounds of bleached sugar; with this modern take on the ancient sphinx, the legendary artist crafts a towering black face in honor of the slave laborers who worked in sugar cane fields. The powerful work is meant to address racial and sexual exploitation; like the sugar that coats her polystyrene core, this black female figure has been pressured, against nature, into succumbing to whiteness.
The work is now on display at the old Williamsburg, Brooklyn Domino sugar factory shed, where it reaches to the ceiling and extends for a magnificent 75 feet. The mythical creature is a powerful assertion of the black female self; the face quite resembles the artists’ own, and a carefully wrought bandana subtly references the stereotypical (and often offensive) symbol of the mammy, a slave woman who nurtured and brought up white children. Walker has been the subject of debate in the past for her use of contested imagery, and despite the controversy surrounding the “mammy” figure, she is presented here as powerful and divine.
Like the ancient sphinxes of Egypt and Greece, Walker’s monolithic creation is godly, simultaneously fearsome and comforting. The sphinx, known for protecting the tombs of royalty, becomes the guardian of history, interrupting a white-washed historical narrative to make visible the labor of the men and women who were kept enslaved. Her face is serene, assured, and unyielding. The sphinx character, in addition to being a protector, is also dangerous, renowned for devouring those who cannot answer her riddle; Walker’s sphinx is similarly confrontational in her overwhelming size, forcing viewers to confront the complex and painful history of American industry. (via The New York Times)
“Hermaphrodite [sex … is] the sex of the angels,” explains Claudette, an intersex sex worker, to the photographer Malika Gaudin-Delrieu. The pair began their collaboration after meeting in Claudette’s native Switzerland, where Gaudin-Delrieu was documenting the country’s legalized prostitution. With her recent series of photographs, the artist elegantly dispels stigma around complex gender identities; as seen through her lens, Claudette is a woman, a husband, and a father.
Ideas on prostitution, a field often associated with the abuse and exploitation of women, is also complicated by the work. Here, sex work is seen as a means of self-actualization and joy; “Claudette is the opposite of a victim. She controls her life, makes her choices clearly and knowingly. She does more than just live her life, she loves it,” says Gaudin-Deirieu of her subject. A courageous activist for sex workers’ rights, our protagonist stands before a dark auditorium, bathed in spotlight, silently inhaling, poised to speak.
Laced throughout the work are subtle moments of love and intimacy. The series, romantically titled La vie en rose (presumably after the love song by Edith Piaf, a prolific French singer who was cared for by sex workers), focuses in part on Claudette’s 52 year marriage to her wife Andrée. Claudette’s quiet warmth and affections, seen in her and Andrée’s sleepy embrace, permeates throughout the entire visual narrative; with the same profound care, she counts her earnings, dresses in lingerie, rubs her neck.
Claudette describes her work as “[assuming the role of] ultimate femininity […] with happiness and a sense of relief,” and her nuanced relationship with her sensual yearning shines through in the images. We follow her as stops in the street, seduced by a lingerie shop window, as she dresses herself, fingering the textured fabrics as they cling to her body. Claudette’s life, as seen through streaming sunlight and soft darkness, is magnetic, alluring, and unexpectedly soothing, and viewers are left to ponder an indescribably complex global sexual and political landscape. What do you think? (via Feature Shoot and HuffPost)
Writer’s note: Gaudin-Deirieu’s work and this post are in no way meant to be taken as a generalization of the lives of sex workers; instead, they are meant to highlight the life an individual. As the artist explains, there are as many views on prostitution as there are people practicing it. For many, it’s a form of abuse; for Claudette, it is not.
The word “hermaphrodite” is usually considered to be offensive, and in no way is this post meant to condone or encourage the use of the word under most circumstances. Here, it is used only because Claudette herself identifies with the word.
In the dawn of an era where Facebook has added a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender, and an oscar nominated film about AIDS and a famous male, straight musician playing a transgender role (aka Dallas Buyers Club), we are bound to see more projects like JJ Levine‘s in the mainstream media.
The Montreal based photographer, an avid cataloguer of trans and queer communities since early 2000′s, creates Alone Time, a series of photographs in which he recreates typical domestic environments that play around with the idea of gender stereotypes. For this project he uses one model only; the one model is to play both the male and female characters in the image. The result, Levine said, “challenges the normative idea that gender presentation is stable or constant. Rather, gender expression can be fluid and multiple.”
“work is emerging at a moment when people are starting to talk more about gender and sexuality in the public sphere, which allows more space for queer cultural production and representation in the mainstream.”The thought-provoking work gives us the chance to become vulnerable and empathetic towards
The thought-provoking work not only give us, the viewer (of any gender,) the possibility to become vulnerable and empathetic, but also the ability to imagine ourselves in this specific situation. What would it be like to be a member of the opposite sexes? Do I, in anyway, resemble some of all the male/female/transgender characteristics?
Levine, a trans and queer man, uses his sexuality, gender and past experiences in his art in order to reach out to those who are not necessarily familiar with the subject. He intends to expand awareness through creating work that is familiar to all, and not just one gender. He notes that his images “talk about and celebrate marginality from a place of familiarity and self-exploration as opposed to voyeurism.” (via Slate)
In Spanish photographer Jon Uriarte’s series The Men Under the Influence, he photographs men wearing the clothes of their girlfriends or wives. The images are composed in the space shared by the couple. Uriarte displays ideas of gender through clothing, as the men wear outfits that would be considered feminine, including dresses and strappy sandals. In a short statement about the series, he writes:
This work addresses the recent change in roles in heterosexual relationships from the relations of our predecessors and how those changes have affected men in particular. The photos attempt to capture men’s sense of loss of reference, now that women have taken a step forward and have finally come into their own as equal partners.
While I don’t agree entirely with some of the sentiments in this statement, I do appreciate the gender-bending nature of it. The socially-constructed roles of men and women tie our identities to an arbitrary notion that we each have to be a certain way just because of our gender. Clothing is a way we can outwardly express ourselves and our choices. I like seeing these men, looking unaffected by their attire (and even comfortable), sitting in the the place where they share their homes and their lives. (via feature shoot)