From the prize-winning book of photographs by Jana Marcus – Transfigurations.
Transfigurations aims to illuminate who transgender people are, a subject which the mainstream culture has often shadowed in mystery and misunderstood. Navigating the waters of gender politics, the work also explores what comprises masculinity and femininity. The knowledge transgender people have acquired speaks to bridging a gap between the sexes. They have experienced the world from both a female and a male perspective. They have created for themselves what they believe masculinity and femininity to be, and they have found the courage to be who they believe they were born to be, despite daunting odds, ridicule, hate-crimes and murder.
To be transgendered is to transcend gender boundaries in our society. The strict binary boundaries of what is male and female in our culture start as early as birth, when pink or blue colors are chosen for infants. However, what if you knew from an early age you were a boy, but your body was developing as a female? What if the whole world saw you differently than you saw yourself? The transgender invididual’s experience has often been traumatic. Many have lost their families, their partners, their children and their jobs. In addition, they have qduestioned their religions and undergone painful surgeries, all in the name of becoming “whole” – to have their appearance on the outside match who they are on the inside. They have gone against the status-quo to find truth and balance in themselves, no matter what the cost. For many it has been a “do or die” situation.
In 2003, I started interviewing and photographing transgender men (female-to-males) about their journeys of self-discovery. The thought processes intrinsic to what kind of men they were striving to become, and what was informing their choices, were the stories I wanted to tell. In 2005, I turned my lens to transgender women (male-to-females) to photograph and document their thoughts on femininity and how societal pressures may have influenced their views on womanhood.
In shooting the portraits, I chose to take a formalist approach. The more I learned about the complexity of gender issues, the simpler I wanted the images to be. The stark studio, sans props, does not allow you to judge the subjects by their surroundings. They stare back at you, returning the dominant gaze, asking to be recognized, and confronting the viewer with their presence. I wanted each person to be seen simply as a human being, no different from anyone else.
I discovered that gender is both real and illusory, natural and constructed. By capturing the physical and mental transformation from one sex/gender to another, the photos reveal the importance of the body in gender identity, as well as the effects of transformative practices on the body, which creates a reality beyond ordinary experience.
I invite you to look into the faces of these truly self-made men and women.