2014 may now be known as the so-called transgender tipping point. But save from a handful of ad campaigns, those who don't identify with gender norms are barely visible in the mainstream.
So photographers like Laurence Philomène, a 23-year-old based in Montreal, have taken matters into their own hands, and created images which represent their friends as they’d like to be seen.
The result is the non-binary portrait series. Around 20 people from LA to Montreal, mainly Philomène’s close friends and acquaintances, have taken part in the project so far.
Non-binary portraits by Laurence Philomene
Philomène, whose work has been published in magazines including Teen Vogue and Elle Girl Korea, will exhibit the images as part of a two-week show in Berlin in the Spring in a collaboration with online arts platform Curated by Girls.
“I wanted to make the kind of images that I want to see in the world and that I felt were missing,” Philomène tells The Independent. “As a non-binary person myself I feel like there’s a huge lack of representation for people who fall outside of the gender binary in mainstream media and so that’s kind of where the idea for this series came from.”
“Especially when it comes to photography, there’s a sense that trans bodies tend to be tokenised especially by cis photographers, editors, and so on, who push their idea of what being trans is onto them.
“I think in general when you’re photographing people with a marginalised identity it’s important to ask them how they want to be represented," she adds. "Giving agency to my subjects has made my photographic practice feel so much more important and positive for both parties.”
Before each shoot, Philomène asked the sitter to imagine their favourite version of themselves and how they would want to be represented. Philomène encouraged her subjects to dress however they wanted, so viewers could grasp a sense of their personality. Some photos are shot in saccharine pastel colours and play on femininity, while others are shot in nature, although the sometimes harsh Canadian climate played a part in the logistics of the project, too.
“Because of necessity, as its cold in Canada, most of the shoots have taken place in my studio. When it was warmer I did some of the shoots outside, like I shot my friend Hobbes at the skate park because we wanted to go with a skate girl vibe. Much like the clothing in the photos, the location is based on the person I’m photographing and where they want to be photographed.”
The best part of the process for Philomène is not the shoot itself, but sharing the images with the subjects. "Everyone had a really positive reaction and it feels great to make imagery that has a positive impact on the subjects lives,” she adds.
But while her subjects were pleased with the shots, their reactions were marred slightly by the prejudice of others.
Highlighting how non-binary people are still disregarded by many, Philomène adds: “Any time I make work that relates to gender identity I get a lot of hate from strangers because difference often brings in fear and hate but aside from that, for myself and the people involved I think it’s been a really positive experience to create work that gives us both a sense of agency.”
Changing attitudes is part of her goal. Philomène stresses that the images aren’t an attempt to “redefine” gender.
“Rather, that the people in the images are real people with feelings, and that it’s not what they look like that makes them non-binary, it’s a question of how one identifies.
She adds: “All I’m trying to show is that non-binary people exist, and they may look just like anyone else sometimes, and regardless they are beautiful and loveable.”