[P]resented by Curated By Girls, Laurence Philomène’s first solo exhibition takes a look at her ongoing series ‘Non-Binary Portraits’, a body of work that champions representation of trans, intersex, gender-fluid and non-binary youth in the photographer’s signature pallet of vibrant colours and pop aesthetics.
In tandem with the theme of accurate representation of non-binary folk is the act of celebration which emits from Philomène’s photographs. With hair, make-up and styling stemming organically from the subject themselves, Philomène’s camera lens acts as a candid observer to capture the beauty of feeling truly oneself with full agency and autonomy.
We caught up with Laurence below to talk about non-binary, trans and intersex representation in the media, the importance of prioritising disenfranchised voices, and the misunderstanding of non-binary gender identity being a “new” thing.
Hi Laurence, why did you want to create a series focusing on non-binary folk? Can you please elaborate on how you define the term?
Non-binary is an umbrella term for people who don’t strictly fit within the binary of man/woman – it encompasses a lot of different identities, for example some of the people I’ve photographed for this series are non-binary trans women, intersex, gender fluid, etc. I’ve been photographing my friends who are non-binary for a long time, I just never really put the focus of my images on that – my reason for wanting to put non-binary people at the forefront of this series in particular is twofold : first, as someone who identifies as non-binary myself, I wasn’t seeing a lot of non-binary representation in the media and I wanted to show a variety of trans experiences that don’t get showcased as much in the art and fashion world, and second, I wanted to create work where trans individuals have agency regarding how they are represented.
How did you choose people for this series?
A lot of the people in these images are my close friends – fellow artists, friends of friends, people I love and admire. I always cast my series the same way, kind of organically, I mostly work with my friends and also let people come to me if they’re interested in the work I’m doing.
Did you get an opportunity to speak with your subjects about their experiences with their non-binary identity? Did any stories particularly stand out?
I feel like when we were taking photos, the focus was more on that moment, on creating something beautiful. We all talk about our identities and our struggles pretty often, to me the photo sessions were more about appreciating the beauty of the people I was photographing and letting go for a minute. Sometimes that’s what’s nice about hanging out with other non-binary people is that we don’t have to explain ourselves so much, we can just exist together.
How did you approach factors like hair and make-up, was this your directorial decision or did it originate from the subjects themselves?
For most of the shoots the people I photographed did their own hair & make up, whatever they felt comfortable with. For this series I let go of control as much as possible and really just let who was in front of me guide how the final photos turned out.
How do you think societal views toward gender will be different as Generation Z graduate into adults and old age? What real life changes do you think there will be?
I don’t know, I think one big misunderstanding is that all these “new” gender identities exist nowadays when really they’ve always been there, they’re just been shamed and hidden under years of white colonial oppression. I’m hoping for more rights for trans individuals, housing security, job security, easier access to hormones and legal name changes, rights for trans migrants, etc.
Do you think your series does anything to dispel any misconceptions about a fluid gender identity?
I’m hoping it can show that non-binary doesn’t necessarily mean “androgynous” in the masculine sense of the word. Non-binary femme people exist and are valid!
Can you please tell us about a few artists (old, new, young, old) who you believe to be bringing the conversation regarding gender into new territory?
This is the part of the interview where I plug my friend Hobbes Ginsberg, check out her work! One thing I’ll say also is that it’s so important to look at & prioritise artists of colour, especially queer BIPOC [black indigenous people of colour] – take the back seat, listen to what they are saying, and dismantle how white supremacy has shaped understandings of gender. The work of Mark Aguhar in particular comes to mind.
Thank you so much Laurence !