Trans Representations: Non-Binary Visual Theory in Contemporary Art, Photography

Trans Representations: Non-Binary Visual Theory in Contemporary Art, Photography is a visual studies approach to contemporary photographic self-representations made by trans and non-binary artists across a variety of photographic approaches. Building on theories of intersectionality as forwarded by scholars working in the lineage of feminist visual theory this project brings together the fields of photography theory, art history, gender studies, transgender studies and critical race studies, to asses the impact of these works on the constitution of identity categories, art practices, visual culture and art discourse.

Borrowing from cultural studies methods forwarded by Stuart Hall I discuss works across a variety of media to investigate the question of in what ways are trans-self-representations reshaping identity categories and how are these works and their artistic practices challenging and reshaping contemporary art and photography. This project looks at four distinct photographic projects produced by trans sand non-binary artists across a variety of media in efforts to apprehend how via visual culture trans and non-binary image makers are intervening in the trans visual field. For as Stuart Hall argued it is in the visual field that ways of being in the word are proposed contested and negotiated.

 Wynne Neilly,  Female to “Male”

Wynne Neilly, Female to “Male”

 Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst,  Relationship

Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, Relationship

Each of the books chapters is dedicated to a central project they are: trans male artist Wynne Neilly’s photographic installation project documenting his transition Female to “Male,” Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst’s artistic documentation of their falling in love and transitioning in opposite direction across the gender spectrum Relationship, Original Plumbing trans male quarterly produced by trans photographer Amos Mac and trans musician Rocco Kayiatos depicting trans and non-binary people, and the selfies and usies produced by prolific non-binary trans femme Indian American spoken word and performance artist Alok Vaid-Manon.

  Original Plumbing  cover the “Fashion Issue”

Original Plumbing cover the “Fashion Issue”

 Screen shot of Alok Vaid-Manon’s Instagram feed

Screen shot of Alok Vaid-Manon’s Instagram feed

Not only do the creative practices discussed in this project push open identity categories making room for new gender constituencies to galvanize but as my chapters attending to these exemplars reveal, trans and non-binary self-representations also challenge how we have come to conceive of self-portraiture, photographic practices, and contemporary art. Contextualizing these works within both contemporary practices of trans representations and art historical precedents this research reveals trans and non-binary self-image makers across media from large format photography to selfies are engaged in practices in conversation with or using social media while simultaneously in discourse with historical and contemporary art practices. Ultimately the findings reveal that trans and non-binary self-representations are changing gender, photography and contemporary art. Moreover, if we hope to remain relevant as art historians and art theorists, we must turn scholarly attention to these practices.