My partner and I attended the opening exhibition for this ongoing project that has been really gaining momentum in the last few months. Rhys Harper launched an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a cross-country road trip this summer, photographing trans and gender-non-conforming people along the way. The results are beautiful 24X36 inch black and white portraits, along with brief bios of each subject, to illustrate who they are as people, beyond their gender identities.
I first heard about the project in May and donated immediately to the campaign. We exchanged a few emails and then I met Rhys in person at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. When he asked if I’d like to get my photo taken by him, I said, “yes, definitely.” Not realizing he was taking photos right there at the conference! (I think.) I said it more as, yes, let’s set that up! D’oh, haha. Since then, we’ve been messaging further, and I’m very much hoping to be a part of this ever expanding collection of photographs which are gaining visibility and audiences!
My partner and I made a trip of it this weekend – we went to a vegan restaurant, book store, art museum, Mediterranean restaurant, and then to the event. It was a blast; nice to get out of town. The art museum portion of the day was totally bizarre and surreal. The docent seemed surprised we wanted to pay the full $5 each suggested donation. No one else was in the museum except for her and a very friendly (and bored?) security guard. Or so we thought, until we headed toward the stairway to the bottom floor – there were loud banging noises and the sounds of screaming children en masse. I just kept visualizing a stampede of school-aged children horsing around and slamming into the glass cases housing invaluable ceramics. I wasn’t too far off – it was indeed a stampede of children, but they were contained within a “play area.”
We wandered around for a solid 2 hours, and were trailed by the guard for much of that time. She made sure to let us know we could take photos of the ceramics, as long as we didn’t use flash. She pointed out some specific ones to us, commenting, “this one fools a lot of people,” etc. She asked us if we’ve ever heard a player piano before (part of one of the exhibits) and we felt obligated to follow her back into a room we’d already been in, because the piano was rolling out the music. I asked her how many times the piano kicks on per day. She said, “three or four.” There was an A/V exhibit where you could record a 10 second digital video of yourself, while manipulating special effects. So, we went ahead and did that, and playback mode shows what you just recorded, followed by everyone else’s segments… Our block was followed by 10 seconds of the guard, pacing the room at a slight distance, all pixelated and swooping (she must have recorded herself earlier in the day). It was a distorted version of our real life experience, at the art museum. It was a moment.
The gallery event was incredible. Very well attended. Lots of snacks and drinks (I usually make a bee-line for the free snacks at these kinds of things). Seeing these images (many of which I’ve seen online) on these white walls, in person, felt really powerful. There’s an Episcopal nun. A fire fighter. An ex-military person. A cat rescuer. A MMA fighter. A DJ. And so many more. I think Rhys’s project is going to go far. He’s already going far! He recognized me right away, and we talked further about my being photographed in the future. We also talked about being introverts and stuff like that. He invited us to an after-party outing which was super nice, but we politely declined (since my partner and I are such introverts. Haha.)
The opening was a joint effort with Gavin Rouille, a conceptual and graphic artist living in Minneapolis. gavinlaurencerouille.wordpress.com. If you go to his website and click on “personal” (personal work), you’ll come upon a lot of really cool visual stuff.
The text on the card reads: “Dear friend, I am a boy. I am sure you did not realize this when you called me, ‘lady, girl, miss, she, her, or ma’am.’ In the past I have attempted to alert people of my gender identity in advance. Unfortunately, this causes them to react to me as pushy, or socially inappropriate. Therefore, my policy is to assume people don’t make these assumptions about me, and to distribute this card when they do. I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you just as I am sure you regret the discomfort your assumptions are causing me.”
Edit: I JUST saw this: this article about Rhys’s photos was published 2 hours ago in Cosmo. (!!!)
Cosmopolitan article: 14 Beautiful Photos That Will Change How You See Gender Forever