Just a quick random stuff post about something I came across while following up on my long post from Friday night. Take a look at this picture:
Odds are that you automatically thought — nay, presumed — that the person in the above photo is a female. Well, the figure is sporting long hair and has full lips. But is the person really female? Or perhaps male? The answer is… neither.
The above photo is part of a collection I read about on The Independent‘s website profiling an exhibit of photographs that closes this weekend at London’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The project is titled “Looking Out, Looking In,” and is the work of London-based photographer Åsa Johannesson. For the past several years, Johannesson has been focusing on how self-image and self-identity is portrayed in photography. For “Looking Out, Looking In,” Johannesson’s camera is trained on gender malleability, profiling figures who do not identify as male or female.
As The Independent article and MOCA London’s blurb describes it, Johannesson does not want the project to be a “gender guessing game;” in other words, what’s underneath their clothes has no bearing to the person they are and the image they display to the world. To that end, the photographs feature various techniques to put the focus on the subjects humanity and not their gender, among them life-size positioning; black-and-white textures, which is an ironic touch (the subjects are not completely in one gender category); and having the subjects gaze directly into the camera and towards the viewer (very captivating).
As evidenced by Åsa Johannesson’s website, “Looking Out, Looking In” isn’t the first time she’s examined natural definitions of gender, or of identity for that matter. Her other photography work has examined and challenged traditional representations and embodiment of gender identities and roles (as shown here, here, and here), as well as an examination of national identity and tolerance. She’s even trained the camera on herself, profiling the theories (here and here) as to how and why people who may share a resemblance can be so strikingly different.
Browsing through MOCA London’s section on past projects, “Looking Out, Looking In” isn’t the first time they’ve presented works that challenge identity; eleven years ago, a project profiled the “multiple identities” created when “shedding” one set of clothes for another. It’s not their first time presenting installations involving the LGBT community, either; a live performance installation in 2012 was set in a Victorian era house and evoked the lives and works of noted LGBT figures in history.
But back to “Looking Out, Looking In.” The photos featured online are a great display of nuance at a time when society still tends to categorize people into one type or the other, including gender. Åsa Johannesson shows great care in presenting her subjects not as a set category but as the beautiful human beings — and individuals — they are. And the good news is, as The Independent indicated in its feature, Johannesson plans to continue “Looking Out, Looking In” over the next 12 months, continuing to feature images of those who non-conform to preset identities. That’ll be something to look forward to for sure.