Transgender Representation in Photography

Representations of people who are transgender in photography are often limited, focusing solely on bodily “dichotomies” and showing only a certain type of trans person. For my project I sought to build a body of photographs that is more sensitive and intersectional then what is currently available

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For this project I created (or, am still creating, as this is continuous) a series of photographs of people who are transgender. Included with these photographs are excerpts from interviews with those featured.

This project has many intended purposes and will hopefully transcend those imagined purposes and be helpful to people in ways I didn’t expect. It started when I was looking at a few photo series of portraits of medically transitioned transgender people; all white, mostly males who appear physically fit and often are conventionally attractive. This is not always the image that is given, but more often than not trans people in photography are flattened out to their procedures, their physical “dichotomies,” an embodied representation of gender. I asked a few friends who are trans what they thought about this representation and, as one could have guessed, no one felt it was relatable. The people I talked to noted that there were almost no people of color, non medically transitioned people, or genderqueer people featured, as well as a lack of older people. For my project I wanted to work with people who are trans to build a body of photographs that each individual feels does them justice and to create a series that would be more diverse then what is usually available. One of the reasons for doing this is to hopefully build a support and a sense of affirmation for other trans viewers. Another is to help create an outlet for the voices of the people featured, as well as to break down gimmicks of trans representation in photography.

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Something particularly challenging about this project finding people to contact. Visibility is not always a good thing. A big part of my goal was to help represent more people of color, however I had a very hard time finding anyone to even ask about it. For many POC being visible could be detrimental. This was a difficulty I considered at the beginning of the project but I did not realize just how challenging it would be. Many trans people are not out to family or coworkers, are not comfortable being photographed, and make themselves scarce for a variety of safety reasons. Something I wish I had done sooner was to contact a trans organization leader to see if they could put me in contact with anyone. I did this too late in the project to show the results now. The only thing that kept me from doing that was shyness, regrettably.

Something that worked well was making sure not to come at the photographs with a political angle. Instead of approaching the images thinking ‘how can I make it clear how their transness plays into this,’ I approached it like I would with anyone: a regular but complex individual.Through doing this project I realized that activism doesn’t have to be a big, fiery action but instead can be as simple as recognition, listening, and helping to uplift others voices. I realized that I can use photography as a tool for change without taking pictures of an outright revolution or something similarly dramatic. Change happens in smaller steps, which is encouraging.


Here is the project link:

To keep up with the continuation of this project, check here:

http://audreygatewood.com/Something-New

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