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Aperture - December 2017 part 2

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Jenna Wortham
P I CT UR E S 7 3
“Creepy, exciting, and a little weird” is how Amos Mac, a
Los Angeles photographer, describes slinking into the American
Civil Liberties Union offices in Manhattan late one night in 2013
to shoot the artist and musician Juliana Huxtable, who worked
there at the time. Over the course of several evenings, the two
snuck in suitcases of clothing, light kits, and equipment.
As an artist and a creative, Mac centers on reclaiming
trans bodies in his work. In 2009, he founded Original Plumbing,
a quarterly magazine focusing on the experience of trans male
culture. “I started documenting other trans artists because I
was tired of seeing disembodied body parts and scars hanging
on the walls in museums and galleries and feeling like shit when
I saw it,” Mac said. “There’s more to this, to us. These people
are human beings. We are human beings.”
Mac and Huxtable first crossed paths in 2011, at a house
party in Bushwick. They soon met up for coffee and, shortly after,
collaborated on several photographs of Huxtable in her home,
as part of Mac’s ongoing Bedroom Series, which began in 2011
and features queer artists and writers in their personal spaces.
Two years later, they agreed to work together on another series.
During a brainstorming session, Huxtable told Mac about some
of the disturbing, traumatic, racist, and transphobic attitudes
she encountered at her job at the ACLU, where she worked as
a legal assistant with the racial justice program.
Mac was shocked by her story but not surprised. “These
organizations are large and they don’t always encompass the
issues they’re fighting for,” he said. Huxtable also revealed
that she planned to quit soon, and the two seized on the idea
of reclaiming the space that oppressed her during the daylight
hours. As she stated in a 2013 interview with Mac about their
collaboration, most of Huxtable’s challenges came from adjusting
to the corporate, nine-to-five routine, and she “felt restricted
by the gap between the politics of people who, despite their
best and most liberal intentions, saw me as a problem.”
The ACLU, like other U.S. institutions, is facing criticism
and scrutiny on a national scale for defending the right of white
supremacists to march in Trump’s America, forcing many to
reexamine the infrastructure that governs our country, as well
as raising questions about who they are serving and at what
cost. This awakening has come slower to others—while some,
like Huxtable, have spent their lives calling for this inevitable
revolution of thought and policy.
The photographs from those nighttime shoots show
Huxtable in repose around the ACLU offices: in the bathroom,
atop mail room shelves, near an enormous poster of the Statue
of Liberty. Her regal face is quiet, contemplative. Her beauty rests
at the eye of the storm. The nondescript corporate background
disappears behind her—the eye cannot focus on anything but
her. She looks poised, undefeated. Ready for action.
Jenna Wortham is a staf writer at
The New York Times Magazine and cohost
of the podcast Still Processing.
This spread:
Table, 2013
Rest, 2013;
Exit, 2013
All photographs courtesy
the artists
P I CT UR E S 7 5
Queen on Board,
Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca,
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Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes
According to Mexico’s Zapotec social customs, queer boys
are expected to wear feminine clothing and makeup starting
in childhood or adolescence. As they mature, they adopt the
social roles of women and become muxes, a type of third gender
favored in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Muxes auténticas
(authentic muxes) generally aspire to live as, or to become,
women, yet the category of muxe is expansive and can also
encompass masculine homosexual men who do not wear female
dress (muxe nguiú).
As the Mexican photographer Nelson Morales explained
to me recently, it was only after moving away from his small town
of Unión Hidalgo to study in the capital of Oaxaca, and following
a stint working on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico,
that his strong rejection of his community’s social norms began
to change. “Initially, I did not want to be a traditional muxe,
to dress or to look like a woman. I did not want to be their friend,”
he said. But then, about seven years ago, Morales, who is now
thirty-four years old, purchased his first camera, returned home
P I CT U RE S 7 9
for a visit, and was invited to photograph a muxe beauty pageant.
While initially apprehensive, Morales asked the contestants
to dress in traditional Tehuana clothes and photographed them
in black and white, following the example of Graciela Iturbide’s
well-known muxe portraiture from the mid-1980s.
Saturated in color, Morales’s highly stylized, theatrical
images feature muxe protagonists who confidently confront
the camera. In one, Dorismar wears an orange strapless gown
and tilts out of a bright red mototaxi in the countryside, her
windswept hair and dress in counterpoint to the white wind
turbines in the background. For a portrait of Keara Pamuce
Rosoff dressed as a virgin, Morales posed her in front of a dramatic
red curtain, holding a rosary and standing next to a toppled
statue of the archangel Michael. (Keara Pamuce died in 2016
under uncertain circumstances; many queer men and trans
women in Mexico experience profound violence, and have
limited access to antiretroviral medication if they are HIV positive.)
Some portraits are more intimate, such as Dear Mother,
Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca (2016), which shows a beauty queen
in a hand-painted, maritime-inspired ball gown, sitting with
her grandmother in front of the family altar, styled to emulate
Frida Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas (1939). Others are haunting,
including the portrait of Thalía, an older muxe ngola or “big muxe”
(big referring to age, not size), who appears reclining in tall grass.
“For me, this photo is very fuerte”—powerful or disturbing—
Morales indicates, “because not all muxes get to be big. Thalía
lives on the edge of town, alone, in a precarious situation. All this
muxe wants is for someone to listen to her.”
Several photographs feature Morales himself. In one, he is
coupled with Erika, a muxe sex worker, their bodies entwined in
front of a green wall; this image was the result of an assignment
for a workshop in Oaxaca with the French photographer Antoine
d’Agata. “It unleashed something in my creative process,”
Morales said. “I told Erika that we were going to have fun and
to do crazy, erotic things, and that she should not feel bad for
me, because I am also gay.”
In Our Piety, Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca (2016), we see Morales
in a patch of banana trees in the pose of Jesus in the pietà,
held by two seemingly naked muxe beauty queens, Salomé
and La Paca. The religious allusions and sexual content in certain
of his images have made Morales’s photographs the object of
censorship in Mexico, where some conservative galleries and
museums refuse to exhibit his work. But Morales is defiant.
“I have come to understand that not everybody likes my work.
It’s something I have to live with.”
Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes teaches
at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
He has published Queer Ricans: Cultures
and Sexualities in the Diaspora (2009)
and A Brief and Transformative Account
of Queer History (2016).
AP E RTU R E 8 0
Our Piety, Unión Hidalgo,
Oaxaca, 2016
P I CT UR E S 8 1
Dear Mother, Unión
Hidalgo, Oaxaca, 2016
This page:
The Big Lady, Unión
Hidalgo, Oaxaca, 2016
Frida, Salina Cruz,
Oaxaca, 2016
P I CT U RE S 83
Seduction, Oaxaca, 2015
Pray for Us, Juchitán,
Oaxaca, 2016
All photographs courtesy
the artist
P I CT U RE S 87
Josué Azor
Patrick Sylvain
On the surface, Josué Azor’s recent photographs are heirlooms
of a group’s expressions of joy. Upon closer look, however,
these photographs also provide a telling glimpse into the
coping mechanisms of the Haitian LGBT community, which
has long endured the torment of social ridicule and religious
prohibition. Uniquely, Azor portrays a certain form of revelry
that has traditionally evaded photography in Haiti: the
nonconformist, nonprescriptive nightlifers whom he refers
to as “the Noctambules.”
Since the earthquake of January 12, 2010, conservative
Christians have had a significant impact on the sociopolitical
life of Haiti through various movements to persecute homosexuals
and practitioners of vodun. While vodun is routinely characterized
in a negative light, it is welcomed and practiced by some
members of the LGBT community. Azor’s work has covered its
ceremonies, rites, and celebrations. As a gay man representing
a group of people that has been demonized by certain sectors
AP E RTU R E 9 0
of society, Azor has also developed a political vision of Haitian
citizenship. “I want to bring to the public the unseen, and to
disrobe taboos,” he says. His photographs—allegories and
archives of a feared and misunderstood group—elicit a superlative
gaze without imposition, without fantastic, exotic, or phantasmic
distractions. “We are not monsters or freaks. We are Haitians
who love, but love differently,” he says. “My parents wish that
my sister and I were straight, and married with kids. In Haiti, for
most people, life is incomplete without having children. But we
are who we are, and despite their disappointments, they have to
love us. I am fighting for the right to choose.”
The images in Noctambules (2013–16) are fragments with
their own inscriptions of a moment in ambient light, with faces
not fully disclosed: The silhouette of a tilted black head adorned
with a golden-blonde wig. A man flooded in immersive green
light, who smiles as the arm of an obscured lover rests on his
shoulder. An arched black body, with Tina Turner hair, dancing
in a luminescent bath of purple and red. A man who wears
suggestive red lingerie. Azor’s work reveals the continuous
realm of the fluidity of gender expression that, in Haiti, occurs
mostly during carnivals, or at Rara festivities; while there are
no Haitian laws against cross-dressing, people tend to accept
gender boundaries.
Azor often deactivated his flash so as not to distract his
subjects from the natural pulse of the moment, creating a
message without accented speech. “The flash is aggressive,”
he says; it forces the photographer “to be present.” Azor likes
to disappear, to blend into the moment that he is capturing.
He wants the language of a dancing body, or a body at rest,
to be at ease within its own act, and not be concerned with
any aspect of performance. These are the nuances of physical
language that Azor is able to capture, without mimicking
them through staged representation.
A photograph, through framing and translation, offers
a tension between the past and the present. In Noctambules,
the nonheteronormative language that Azor translates becomes
a photographic archive that will ultimately require other forms
of translation. But the memory Azor offers is one that the Haitian
Senate would like to fade into black: on August 1, 2017, the
Senate voted overwhelmingly not only to ban same-sex marriage
in Haiti, but also to prevent all public manifestations supporting
the LGBT community. In the future, will Azor’s photographs be
considered public support and therefore a form of illegal protest?
Noctambules is already a mode of writing from the shadows
that embellishes the art of photography while offering a gaze
into a different Haitian community.
Patrick Sylvain is a poet, writer,
and photographer, and a lecturer
at Brown University.
P I CT UR E S 9 1
AP E RTU R E 9 2
P I CT UR E S 9 3
All photographs
Untitled, from the series
Noctambules, 2013–16
Courtesy the artist
AP E RTU R E 9 4
P I CT U RE S 9 5
Jennifer Blessing
is a
Twenty years after an influential exhibition, a curator considers
the enduring images of gender performance.
Previous page:
Cindy Sherman,
Untitled #112, 1982
Courtesy the artist and
Metro Pictures, New York
This page:
Madame Yevonde,
The Lady Milbanke
as Penthesilea, Queen
of the Amazons, 1935
Courtesy the British Council
Collection and the Yevonde
Portrait Archive
Yasumasa Morimura,
Doublonnage (Marcel),
© and courtesy the artist
and Luhring Augustine,
New York
Gender and sexuality are
multivalent, a spectrum
of intersecting identities.
This year is the twentieth anniversary of Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose:
Gender Performance in Photography. In 1995, an exhibition proposal
I submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts received one
of the last exhibition grants to be awarded before the NEA was
gutted by right-wing Republicans as part of the culture wars of
the late 1980s and early ’90s. Two years later, in 1997, the exhibition
opened in New York at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
and then traveled to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
On the cover of its catalog is the gender-bending Surrealist artist
and writer Claude Cahun.
The title, Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose, combines the first name
of Marcel Duchamp’s feminine alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, whose
name plays on the French phrase “Eros, c’est le vie” (Eros, that’s life),
with Gertrude Stein’s poetic “motto,” in order to queer Duchamp’s
Dada gesture. As telegraphed through its subtitle, Gender Performance
in Photography, the exhibition was inspired in part by Judith Butler’s
thinking about gender; the deconstruction of femininity by Pictures
Generation artists, especially Cindy Sherman; the rediscovery
of Cahun and Frida Kahlo; and Madonna’s and Grace Jones’s
representations of phallic womanhood.
While I was eager to introduce lesser-known artists to a
broader public, and historically contextualize contemporary art,
two decades ago I was also on a mission of intellectual activism.
For me, at that time, theories of masquerade and lesbian
spectatorship, along with drag performance, offered ways to elude
the heterosexist, patriarchal male gaze and speak to more diverse
desires. I was acutely aware of the many forms that “passing”
took in my daily life, both professionally and personally, primarily
in terms of gender and sexuality, but also surrounding class and
ethnicity. I have no doubt now that this experience informed my
interest in gender politics and the appeal of photographs that deal
with gender expression.
The central premises of the show were as follows: all gender
presentation is drag; there are no binaries (male/female, masculine/
feminine); gender and sexuality are multivalent, a spectrum of
intersecting identities; and photography is an alluring vehicle with
which to fix one’s pleasure in a certain kind of self-image. I was not
interested in raw forms of disclosure or in the naked body as a “tell,”
or unmasking. Rather, my interest lay in the glamour and idealism
of studio photography; in portraiture as a collaborative process,
a performance for the camera where the direct address of the
subject looking at the camera/photographer/viewer articulates
a distinct kind of power; and, finally, in the 1990s, fascination
with photographic explorations of gender that could be historically
situated in relation to earlier twentieth-century moments,
specifically the interwar years and the 1970s.
Rrose featured ninety-five photographically based artworks—
portraits, self-portraits, and photomontages—by twenty-four
artists, in which the gender identity of a depicted subject is
highlighted through performance for the camera, as well as
through technical manipulation of the image. While some works
use photography’s aura of realism and objectivity to promote
fantasies of gender transformation, others use it to articulate
the seeming incongruence between body and costume.
The exhibition was divided into two historical sections.
The first galleries featured photography created in the period
between the two world wars, from Man Ray’s portrait Marcel
Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy (1920–21) to works by other European
and American artists who embraced the liberating goals of the
Dada and Surrealist movements, namely Brassaï, Cahun, George
Platt Lynes, Hannah Höch, Cecil Beaton, and Madame Yevonde.
The Surrealists’ creative explorations of love, the mechanics
of desire, and the mysteries of human sexuality provided a fertile
milieu for others interested in the multifarious manifestations
of gender.
Brassaï, La grosse Claude
et son amie, Au Monocle,
ca. 1932
© Estate Brassaï/RMN-Grand
Palais and courtesy the
Cleveland Museum of Art
This page:
Nan Goldin, Jimmy
Paulette and Tabboo!
in the bathroom, NYC,
© the artist and courtesy
Matthew Marks Gallery
In the days before the Internet,
the Rrose catalog offered images
and voices that were otherwise
relatively hard to find.
A dearth of publicly available imagery from the immediate
postwar period was followed by an explosion, after 1968, of
photographic objects focusing on gender ambiguity. Examples
of these works, created from the late 1960s to the time of the
exhibition, and often inspired by earlier Surrealist investigations,
were presented in adjoining galleries. The radical social changes
initiated in the 1960s—especially the rise of feminism, gay rights,
and unconventional notions of masculinity—prompted modifications
in socially acceptable standards of gender presentation. The artists
in this section included Jürgen Klauke, Katharina Sieverding,
Annette Messager, Andy Warhol, Lucas Samaras, and Robert
Mapplethorpe, as well as the late Surrealist Pierre Molinier,
whose fetishistic work was poised at the juncture between the
older artists working between the wars, and the generation of ’68
who rediscovered him.
Contemporary artists in the 1990s were quite deliberately
setting out to question and explore sexuality and gender. Some
commented upon mass media by appropriating the formal and
technological means of its representations. Others, inspired by
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, asserted
the visibility of individuals who have been marginalized by so-called
mainstream society. These artists, whose work was featured in
Rrose, included Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Christian Marclay,
Catherine Opie, Janine Antoni, Matthew Barney, Inez van
Lamsweerde, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Yasumasa Morimura.
The exhibition itself had very little in the way of didactic labels.
One entrance to the galleries had a brief introductory wall text
similar to the paragraphs above, while the text at another entrance
was simply devoted to a long passage from Roland Barthes by Roland
Barthes, “I like, I don’t like,” about individual subjectivity defined
via taste, as a metaphor for desire. Barthes’s words also appear as
the frontispiece of the catalog, with Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #112
(1982) on the facing page. There were no descriptions of the pictures
WORDS 1 0 1
on view in the exhibition, or information about their makers,
beyond individual wall labels listing the artist’s name plus the
work’s title, date, and medium. This concision was a calculated
attempt to avoid deterministic pronouns. My goal was for
visitors to recognize themselves as complex desiring subjects,
to acknowledge the polymorphousness of their desire in relation
to the images. I wanted viewers to experience the delirious pleasures
of ambiguity—and to find their own pleasure—rather than to
tell them what to see.
The Rrose project was conceived within the context of the
contemporaneous proliferation of films starring cross-dressed
protagonists, advertisements featuring ambiguously sexed
adolescents, and myriad media images reflecting the 1990s fascination
with gender identity. By integrating images of hypermasculine
and hyperfeminine subjects within the context of manifold queer
and trans portraits, I hoped to show that what today might be
called cisgender presentation is also a kind of masquerade. So it
was with disappointment that I witnessed a certain pop superstar
go through the exhibition, pointing to a succession of pictures and
announcing, “This is a girl, and that’s a boy.” She was demonstrating
her sophisticated ability to read the codes of gender and sexual
identity, but I wished she didn’t have to name the sitters as either/or.
It reminded me of the first time I published an essay, on Claude
Cahun for a graduate school journal. I asked to be identified as
J. Blessing, and the editor confirmed with me that I chose my initial
because I did not want to use my gender-determinant first name.
Nevertheless, I was outed as “she” in an author blurb, in what felt
at the time as a refusal to respect my preference.
When I reread my Rrose essay, I see how I tried to juggle
terminology, highlighting historical usage and adopting vocabulary
from a variety of authors and discourses in an attempt to avoid
fixity, and yet now some terms feel dated and others are almost
slurs. Today trans visibility is far greater—witness mainstream
media coverage like the famous 2014 Time magazine cover
article “The Transgender Tipping Point,” featuring Laverne Cox.
The word trans is inflected differently than it was in the mid-1990s,
when Q+ was just being added to LGBT. Now, there are many
more terms to describe trans experience, and acknowledgment
of the differences in usage among communities; at the same time,
it is not unusual for people to request the pronouns with which
they prefer to be identified.
In the days before the Internet, the Rrose catalog offered
images and voices that were otherwise relatively hard to find.
The recent revival of interest in the exhibition overlaps with the
trans activism of a younger generation, concurrent with the zombie
revivification of the culture wars. At the time that Judith (Jack)
Halberstam wrote his contribution, “The Art of Gender: Bathrooms,
Butches, and the Aesthetics of Female Masculinity,” he was writing
from an academic context; twenty years later the gender policing
he described has become a national issue. Lyle Ashton Harris’s
visual essay drag racing (1997) looks fresher than ever today,
addressing intersectional identity through the performative
photographic collages he began making in the mid-1990s. He is
currently mining his extensive personal archive to tell the story of
the arts community he inhabited circa 1990, and the issues around
AIDS activism and multiculturalism that artists and theorists were
engaging at that time.
Ironically, Rrose would never have happened were it not for
the support of the NEA. Because another grant application slated
to be submitted by the Guggenheim couldn’t be finished in time
for the agency’s deadline, I was given the opportunity to submit
my idea for Rrose. The show’s long-term institutional impact
can be found in the Guggenheim’s subsequent exhibitions and
collecting: In 2008, the museum presented Catherine Opie: American
Photographer. Photographs from Opie’s series Being and Having
(1991), a witty send-up of the Lacanian notion of woman as phallus,
were featured in both exhibitions. Her important early photograph
Dyke (1993) and her three related works Self-Portrait/Cutting (1993),
Self-Portrait/Pervert (1994), and Self-Portrait/Nursing (2004)—two
of which appeared in Rrose—have been acquired by the museum,
the only institution to have all four.
Opie’s Portraits series (1993–97), in which she portrayed her
friends in the LGBT and leather communities in San Francisco—
not in the pathos-laden, black-and-white reportage style typical
of previous photographs of sexual subcultures, but in beautifully
lit, gorgeous studio color—was a conscious bid to present them in
a dignified and celebratory way. This utopian project of representing
herself and her community in the manner in which they wanted
to be presented, not privileging how others might want to see them,
very much inspired what I hoped to achieve with Rrose, and also
speaks, two decades later, to the appeal of the selfie as a form of
self-empowerment, a way to locate agency in identity.
Ultimately, the gambit Rrose embodied—to provide a
platform for voices that are often silenced and identities that are
threatened with invisibility within hegemonic culture—has been
fundamental to my practice as a curator, and is more important
than ever today.
Jennifer Blessing is Senior Curator,
Photography, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim
An early version of this essay was presented
at the symposium “Untitled (Gender and
Representation),” organized by Stephen
Frailey and Joseph Maida at the School
of Visual Arts, New York, in October 2016.
AP E RTU R E 10 2
Lyle Ashton Harris
in collaboration with
Renée Cox, The Child,
Courtesy Lyle Ashton Harris
Burning Down
the House
Catherine Opie in Conversation with Maggie Nelson
Since her searing debut at the 1995 Whitney Biennial, Catherine Opie has
deployed photography to make the LGBT community visible. At times, she
has focused on S&M practices—her signature Self-Portrait/Pervert (1994) will
still make some viewers wince. Opie, though, insists that she not be defined
by a single identity; her gaze is generous. Over the years, she has photographed
the sinewy forms of Los Angeles highways, young surfers and football players,
quaint ice-fishing houses—a catholic output of Americana that defies easy
For The Modernist (2017), a new short film made of still images, Opie has cast
her longtime friend and photographic subject, Stosh Fila, also known as Pig Pen,
as a person who seeks to burn down some of the most important modernist
houses in Los Angeles, destroying what can never be attained. The film, which
debuts in January 2018, at Regen Projects in Los Angeles, delves into the shape
of desire through modernist architecture, and is intended to be in conversation
with La Jetée, Chris Marker’s classic photo-roman from 1962. Last spring,
Opie and writer Maggie Nelson met at Opie’s downtown Los Angeles studio
to discuss The Modernist, the arc of Opie’s career, and what it means to feel
the reverberation of history.
WORDS 10 5
Maggie Nelson: Your New Yorker profile from earlier this
year was titled “All-American Subversive.” In your new film,
The Modernist, the tensions between “all-American” and
“subversive” are writ large, especially in the political context
in which we’re living, where the right wing, via Donald
Trump, is doing both an “America first!” and a “Let’s burn
this shit DOWN” thing. In your film, you have a genderqueer
person—Pig Pen—who seems both a hero and a villain. The
character and film run on a longing for blowing up beautiful,
iconic, American things (in this case, modernist architecture).
Catherine Opie: One of the things that I’m trying to do as an artist
is push my own relationship to the discourse that I’ve created about
community, and ideas of architecture as well. Making a piece that
kind of blows that up, but also questions it.
Let’s go back to a time before many of my friends transitioned
from F to M, and to the generation of tomboys that I belong to.
We did burn shit down. Because that’s what boys did. We burned
shit. We made rockets and blew them up in the middle of cornfields.
We destroyed houses that were being built. When I told Pig Pen
what the story was, Pig Pen was just like, “Opie, you know that I
always burn shit up.” I’m like, “We all burned shit up; that’s what
we did in wanting to be boys.” So there’s this interesting, odd thing,
because arsonists aren’t really equated with women that much.
MN: It’s very interesting to feature, or even heroize, this
mentality of, “Oh, I’m going to get into the house of art,”
or “I’m going to get into the house of gender,” or “I’m going
to get into the house of the Man and blow it up from the
inside,” against the backdrop of this particular Trumpian
moment, which is so nihilistic, so criminal, so “Let’s set
fire to the planet and watch it burn.”
CO: Also, how are we going to be seen within this? We’ve forgotten
what it is to really look, to be involved. We’ve become this imagebased society where we are no longer looking.
MN: When the film first started, I felt like it was too fast. I
wanted to see each picture for a long time. I had to surrender.
Within two minutes you’re completely fluid in the speed
and the language.
CO: It’s a piece that allows you to go into it a number of times,
and I would hope that the audience wants to sit through it more
than once. It’s meant to loop. I’m not going to have a beginning
sequence of credits for the piece. The film has a definite narrative
structure, but the inclusion of any kind of opening or closing credits
creates too much of a language that is based in the ideas of cinema.
MN: Did you say you shot it during the 2016 election season?
I just wondered how, after having been invited by the Obamas
to work inside the halls of power during Obama’s 2009
inauguration, you’re currently thinking of all this inside-thehalls-of-power, outside-the-halls-of-power stuff.
CO: Most of the film was shot in August 2016, and then after the
November election as well. We’re really living in frickin’ interesting times.
MN: I think everybody lives in history, but there are certain
moments when you feel the vibration of living in history.
CO: This is a big vibration.
MN: That feeling when you just don’t know what’s going to
happen next. That’s what living in history often feels like.
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Page 104:
Pig Pen (Tattoos), 2009,
from the series Girlfriends
This spread:
Still from The Modernist,
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CO: I’ve never wanted fear to rule my life. I think the time that it
most ruled my life was in 2008, when I was getting ready for my
exhibition, my four floors of the Guggenheim, and it was when
Obama was getting elected, and there was another kind of uprise of
incredible homophobia happening—and I felt very, very vulnerable.
MN: One part of your New Yorker profile that I really loved,
and which is obviously related to your work as a teacher, was
when Ariel Levy quoted you as saying to a student whose work
was being criticized heavily by other students, “Stand up
for your work! Open it up! Don’t shut it down, man.”
CO: Criticality is really important, and that’s part of education, and
that’s what we do. We hopefully are teaching our students the ability
to truly and critically explore their work from all sides.
MN: How have things changed over the course of your time
making work? It’s funny to think back to the ’90s, which
people thought of back then as an incredibly PC moment,
and see it now as more of a complete and total playpen, like
a sex-positive free-for-all. I don’t know if I’m remembering
it correctly.
CO: No, no, you are remembering correctly. Now it’s different,
because as soon as your work goes out into the world, it’s out in
the world. When I made Pervert, the first place that it ever showed
was the 1995 Whitney Biennial. It had never been hung before that.
MN: I feel, at least personally, like I have only ever been able
to work by really repressing the idea of audience, and I don’t
really want to change that, and yet I see through others—like
you—how that could possibly be a productive force. It gives
me a lot to admire, to see the kind of strength and wisdom
and intuitiveness, in the way you’ve gone about doing it.
CO: So when you work, it’s really a singular voice for you? It’s an
internal process?
MN: For me to imagine readers that I don’t know and project
onto them, while I’m writing, what they might think, seems
to me like a very deep psychological fool’s errand. It engages a
version of projection that actually still only represents myself.
CO: I would say that I only think with myself in the room. I’m not
trying to serve an audience in relationship to what their desires
might be of me. I am trying to serve my own desires in relationship
to thinking about a broader read, I suppose.
MN: That’s really smartly put. Sometimes what greets work
in the moment sticks to it, as an immediate reaction can have
a certain adhesive quality that’s hard to shake. On the other
hand, time changes the work so much.
CO: When I lecture now and I’m showing the earlier work, it just
looks kind of sweet and easy for the most part.
MN: God, Cathy, you’ve really been through some rings of fire.
MN: You think so? You think that’s what it looks like now?
CO: It was like, “Whoa!” So the thing is, I was just responding to
CO: When those images were first made, they were radical. But they
what you described as the playpen. I’m hanging out with all these
incredible thinkers. Harry and Silas are running Red Dora’s Bearded
Lady, an incredible community coffeehouse, performance space,
and art gallery, in the ’90s. That’s where I’m going to find people
to sit for me for the early portraits. I’m going to a lot of play parties.
In LA, I’m heavy into what Ron Athey is doing with performance
work and that community. Now that I’ve been doing this for so long,
I think about what exhibitions mean, but I certainly wasn’t thinking
about what exhibitions meant. I was thinking about how I could die
tomorrow. I never actually thought that I would live past my thirties,
because I was watching all my friends die of AIDS.
MN: Do you regret that imposition of having to think so much
about what an exhibition means—when you have to deal with
what the world thinks about your work?
CO: It changes your relationship to how you make work, in a way.
You have to realize that, potentially, the audience isn’t as complicated
as you are. You almost have to reevaluate and recognize yourself
in relationship to your own process as an artist. You are constantly
recalibrating the place that you want your audience to begin to
think, potentially a little deeper, about issues of politics and identity.
So you try to create that language through the way that you’re
making work.
I became very aware of the audience as soon as I started
showing in a major platform. But that wasn’t what I was thinking
before. Then it’s just like, Oh, okay, I don’t want to be a singular
identity; I don’t want to be just the leather dyke artist, and that’s
all I’m going to be. So, guess what? You guys are going to look
at little platinum prints of freeways now. You’re going to look
at mini-malls. You’re going to look at Beverly Hills houses.
You’re going to look at domestic scenes of traveling around in
an RV. You have to serve yourself first as an artist, but you also
have to think about the relationship to the audience.
do not look radical anymore. I mean, maybe Self-Portrait/Pervert and
maybe Self-Portrait/Cutting (1993). Blood is still radical. That’s why
I’m making sure there’s some blood. Not in this film piece, but there’s
the body. The body is utterly important. The body is a transformative
space, as in the portraits that I’m making now of David Hockney,
John Baldessari, Frank Gehry, and Kerry James Marshall.
MN: You’re photographing them?
CO: Yeah. Being fifty-six, there is the transformation of my body
in relationship to menopause. I really am interested in the fluidity
of that space, and how people also fear that space, fear age, fear ideas
of gender.
Oliver, my fifteen-year-old son, has me watching Survivor,
which is the last thing I want to watch. But the other night, we’re
watching Survivor, and there are three gay men in the tribe, or
whatever it’s called. During the kind of tribal council where they
vote somebody out, one of the gay men, Jeff Varner, outed one of the
other gay men, Zeke Smith, as being trans. Smith had been playing
already for two seasons of Survivor, and hadn’t been outed as trans.
Varner got voted off, and then he’s sobbing at the end, saying,
“I can’t believe I just did that.” All of a sudden, this is part of popular
culture as well, and we’re talking about these issues on Survivor?
MN: High drama.
CO: Oliver is just like, “Can you believe it, Mom?” He’s grown up in
the queer community. I was just sitting there thinking, We’ve gotten
to this point now, where this is represented on Survivor? Oh, hmm.
History, time, everything is transformative, and I think that’s
one of the reasons why I’ve always been attached to photography.
It can be kind of the zeitgeist of the specificity of a moment in time,
and that’s what photography has always done really well. You click
a shutter. It’s a record.
WORDS 1 0 9
Page 108:
Oliver in a Tutu, 2004,
from the series In and
Around Home
This page:
Ron, 2013, from the series
Portraits and Landscapes
1994, from the series
All photographs © the artist
and courtesy Regen Projects,
Los Angeles, and Lehmann
Maupin, New York and
Hong Kong
MN: When there are new terms of visibility, there can be
a very intense stratification that goes on; you can lose a lot
of fluidity in the effort to make certain things visible. Like,
when the New York Times was doing its transgender visibility
campaign in 2015, they were kind of saying, “There’s a new
minority in town: the transgender American,” and I just kept
being floored by this phrase, “the transgender American,”
the way it sews together nationalism and gender identity.
I literally just lay down in my bed and tried to breathe for a
few minutes.
CO: Or the title of my Guggenheim show, American Photographer.
I’m perfectly happy that Jennifer Blessing, the curator, came up
with that title. I thought it was really interesting, especially in
relation to a male history of photography, thinking about Robert
Frank, and Walker Evans, and so on.
MN: As we both know, not only is identity not fixed over
time, but there are also speech acts of reclamation, or of
disobedience, that make sense in one moment but aren’t
necessarily meant to mean the same over time. You may want
to be an American photographer for the rest of your life,
but, also, we speak the language of gestures—we try to make
what we think will be the most interesting gesture for any
given moment. There may be a moment at which American
or lesbian or whatever is the right word, the right gesture.
But it’s not like one word is going to be the most provocative
or best word forever. Things change.
CO: Oliver was schooling me on that the other night. We were
on the couch and we were watching something—
MN: More reality TV?
CO: Well, he’s obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race. But there was
something else happening on the news, and I said, “She’s a tranny.”
Oliver said, “Mom, you’re not allowed to use tranny. That’s
derogatory. Mom, you know, it’s like LGBTQI. We’re adding
letters every day.”
MN: There’s always this intergenerational conversation/
conflict. Everyone is playing these prescribed roles, like,
“You don’t know how it was to come up in a different time,”
or, “You weren’t in these trenches,” or, “You don’t know the
history of this,” and the youth say, “We don’t care how it was
for you because it’s different for us and we’ve got something
to tell you.” I try to think: How can we not play these same
roles, while at the same time understanding that there
are certain structural—maybe even neurological—reasons
why the roles are what they are, and that’s also okay?
CO: One of the greatest things about being a teacher is that you
I don’t want to be a singular
identity. I don’t want to be just
the leather dyke artist.
also learn. I might have the language of my young, queer self of my
twenties and thirties, but I’m in my fifties now, and it has changed.
I’m not trying to define my students’ experience. All I can do is
teach from my experience. I’ve never claimed to be any kind of
person except for my own voice within my work. I’m not trying
to create a universal experience whatsoever. I’m just trying to
create my own experience of this time that I live in.
Maggie Nelson is the author, most recently,
of The Argonauts (2015) and The Red Parts:
Autobiography of a Trial (2016).
AP E RTUR E 1 10
Nick Sethi
Jyoti Dhar
AP E RTUR E 1 12
Every year, the eighteen-day festival of Aravan, based upon
a myth from the legendary Hindu epic the Mahabharata, sees
thousands of members of the transgender community gather
in the Indian village of Koovagam in Tamil Nadu. The rituals
begin just as theatrically as they end: with a reenactment
of the marriage of Lord Krishna (in the female form of Mohini)
to the warrior Aravan, followed by a mourning ceremony
in which Krishna/Mohini is widowed when Aravan is killed.
While daytime has more of a spiritual and communal tone
to it, night transforms the village streets and fields into a rare
safe space of sexual and social freedom. In 2016, Nick Sethi,
a New York–based photographer of Indian descent, spent five
days immersing himself in this dualistic setting. Having previously
witnessed instances of abuse and aggression that can comprise
the daily reality of the Indian transgender community, Sethi
was keen to explore the more wondrous and liberated side that
flourishes during the festival.
Such overt inconsistency, which the LGBT community
currently lives with in India, can be epitomized by the Hindu
nationalist government’s lack of a clear position on this segment
of the population. Politicians, often comfortable quoting
Hindu philosophy to make specific sociocultural points, tend
to conveniently gloss over the fact that ancient Vedic scriptures
actually contain detailed, sophisticated descriptions and a highly
nuanced understanding of the tritiya-prakriti, or third gender.
In contrast to viewing homosexuality as unnatural or
dangerous to society, Vedic culture is said to have regarded
those of the tritiya-prakriti as essential to the balance of male
and female genders, necessary for fulfilling particular professional
roles, and auspicious for a range of rituals and celebrations.
Centuries of invasions, and the introduction of a Victorian law,
in 1860, by British colonialists criminalizing homosexuality and
cross-dressing rendered the third gender community to the
dark margins of society. Yet fragments of their celebratory past
are occasionally brought to light in events like the Aravan festival.
Sethi’s conscious approach on entering this event as
a cultural insider/outsider was to present himself as a kind of
“spectacle,” allowing his encounters within the community
to become an “even exchange,” as he terms it. Playfulness was
key to Sethi’s strategy, and through his irreverent interactions
he asked the participants to reimagine themselves: “Can a girl
be a boy?” “Can I be you?” “Can you be me?”
Formally, Sethi employs the language of intimate family
portraiture, with shots of couples standing in front of transient
backdrops; of fashion photography, with “models” posing
in ceremonial garb (one is especially evocative of a yesteryear
Bollywood siren); and of the selfie aesthetic, with festivalgoers
captured in spontaneous excitement. His images neither
glamorize nor victimize their subjects. They retain an
immediacy and ordinariness about them despite being set
within a temporary, performative, and fantastical backdrop.
Sethi’s recent book project, Khichdi (Kitchari) (2017),
which engages with the changing face of street culture and mass
media in India, similarly questions cultural norms and hierarchies,
being sensitive to, yet unburdened by, ingrained ways of seeing.
This approach can also be seen in works by other artists from
the South Asian diaspora, such as in Chitra Ganesh’s exploration
of sexuality and gender in India and Cassie Machado’s poetic
photographs of marginalized communities in Sri Lanka.
As Gayatri Gopinath writes in Impossible Desires: Queer
Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (2005), such projects
refreshingly contest fixed narratives, including the “fictions of
purity that lie at the heart of dominant nationalist and diasporic
ideologies.” With India marking seventy years of independence
from colonial rule, images such as Sethi’s serve as timely reminders
of the need to address current sociopolitical ironies, draw upon
pluralistic and syncretic histories, and finally decolonize our
understanding of the third gender.
Jyoti Dhar is an art critic based between
New Delhi and Colombo.
AP E RTU R E 114
Attendees of Koovagam
Festival, Tamil Nadu,
India, April 2016
All photographs courtesy
the artist
Sean O’Toole
The South African photographer Sabelo Mlangeni was midway
through describing his itinerant early years in Johannesburg,
a city he has called home since 2001, when he suddenly remarked,
“The other day I was thinking about how sexuality influences
a photographer.” Befitting his digressive manner, Mlangeni
meandered toward a concise point. “How does a photographer
enter a space? Does our sexuality influence how we engage
with people?” Mlangeni, an out gay man who describes himself
as shy and lonely yet also curious, didn’t propose explicit
answers. Instead, he shifted the conversation from cosmopolitan
Johannesburg, where he has photographed the inhabitants of
all-male labor hostels, women street sweepers, and poor whites
who kept him at the perimeter of their homes, to remote towns
southeast of Johannesburg where he made his startling series
Country Girls (2003–9).
The project is comprised of two bodies of work—flagrant
full-frontal portraits and casual scenes of gatherings—offering
an unspectacular look at the habits and circumstances of black
gay men living in towns called Bethal, Driefontein, Ermelo,
Platrand, Piet Retief, Secunda, and Standerton. Linked to South
Africa’s colonial past, these stolid settlements are familiar places
for Mlangeni, who grew up in Driefontein. This fact may account
for why his photographs possess a family-album aesthetic; and
yet, they also read as partisan acts of photographic witness.
Mlangeni’s series focuses on domestic rituals and self-styled
family engagements. It is a mollifying tactic, particularly given
the media stories that belittle trans sex workers, and enables
insight into the complex “interplay between creativity and
constraint,” as Graeme Reid, a gender activist who has written
insightfully on Mlangeni’s study of gay life and innovative
gender performance in the countryside, notes in Men Behaving
Differently (2005).
But Mlangeni did not set out to bear anthropological witness.
Instead, mood and affect are central to his documentary method.
Take his 2003 photograph of Nkululeko, a successful hairstylist
from Thandukukhanya, a socially volatile black settlement
outside Piet Retief. The shy embrace between Nkululeko and
a friend brings to mind Brassaï’s cool depictions of same-sex
intimacy at 1930s balls in Paris. “There’s something amazing
that is happening there,” Mlangeni observed, without laboriously
parsing the components of his photographs.
It’s an insight that extends to his series Black Men in Dress
(2010–11), which deploys the same insider/outsider, participant/
witness point of view to describe celebrants at Johannesburg
Pride and Soweto Pride. The former parade grew out of a lesbian
and gay pride march, initiated by activist Simon Nkoli, held
in downtown Johannesburg in March 1990. Various legal gains
have been recorded since: the country’s 1996 constitution
outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation, sodomy
was decriminalized in 1998, and same-sex marriages have been
recognized since 2006.
The establishment of Soweto Pride, in 2004, by the
Forum for the Empowerment of Women—an event separate
from Johannesburg Pride and conceived to both “claim the
streets” and “create visibility,” especially for black lesbians—
points to the lingering spatial, interpersonal, and erotic divisions
that scar this country. Framed by these social histories and
contemporary debates, Mlangeni’s photographs record the
small-scale pageantry of citizenship, and illustrate how the
right to a still-divided city is expressed through minutiae: a head
wrap and ankle-length skirt, a bare chest and braided extensions.
Sean O’Toole is a writer and editor based
in Cape Town.
AP E RTUR E 1 1 8
This page:
Identity, Bongani
Ndlangamandla, 2011,
from the series
Black Men in Dress
Big Boy, 2009; Nkululeko
and friend from Durban,
2003, both from the series
Country Girls
P I CT UR E S 1 19
Xolani Ngayi, eStanela,
2009, from the series
Country Girls
This page:
Iduku, Tshepo, 2011,
from the series Black Men
in Dress
All photographs courtesy
the artist
P I CT U RE S 12 3
party, hang out, disguise themselves, and smoke, smoke, smoke.
Drawn to the fringes of the city, they seem to be on their own
parallel quest for freedom.
And for escapism, according to the people Zielony interviewed
on his two visits to the city. He was introduced to the scene
by a friend and let the story evolve by following her through
Kiev. While the look of the photography and the accounts in
his interviews have a documentary feel, Zielony states he’s
not a documentary photographer. But the series has a purpose.
“Historically, the fight for gay rights and the struggle for political
equality and emancipation of all citizens have been connected,”
he says.
Zielony’s photographs from Kiev are reminiscent of images
of Berlin in 1989 and Moscow in 1991, showing as they do the
first tentative steps of a community looking for a new way of
life. Masks have become a mode of communication: worn by
protestors in Independence Square during the revolution to
conceal identity, worn to prevent the spread of illness, or worn
for beauty or sex. They stand for the virtual reality in which Kiev’s
LGBT community lives, along with other realities in this city
that are often felt with force by queer Ukrainians. The Right
Sector, Ukraine’s far-right nationalist party, has waged public
campaigns against LGBT rights. “For me,” an interviewee named
Natasha told Zielony, “this kind of hatred is just an escalation of
ordinary Ukrainians denying gay people’s rights or their existence
These are not easy times. “You are not supposed to be
openly queer everywhere, and we don’t have any laws protecting
partnerships,” said another interviewee named Vicky.
“Nevertheless,” she continued, noting the increased support
from gay-friendly allies, “it’s a promising situation for transgender
people. I hope they will be the ones who will bring us forward.
They are the mind openers for previously homophobic people.”
To put this in perspective, it was only in 2016, after numerous
attempts, that the first largely peaceful gay pride event took
place. It is a hopeful sign that, despite the political stagnation
and anarchy of war, the cultural revolution in the city continues.
To some, the freedoms won in 2004 and 2014 seem irreversible.
If the LGBT community can take off its mask and dance, party,
and live freely, then this particular revolution will have been won.
Zielony’s series portrays that desire with intensity.
Arnold van Bruggen
Kiev between dusk and dawn. The city has gone to sleep, but
in its brutalist buildings, nightclubs, parks, and alleys a new
scene is coming to life. I first visited the Ukrainian capital thirteen
years ago, in 2004. The Orange Revolution had just toppled the
unpopular authoritarian post-Soviet regime. Tents and makeshift
kitchens were erected in the streets, and old women brought
pots of jam for the young revolutionaries. Although rumors about
tanks and saboteurs continued to spread fear, the people danced,
and the newfound freedom was as tangible as the mud underfoot.
The energy was electrifying.
But the revolution ended. A liberal government came to
power but soon succumbed to corruption, division, and waning
popular support. In 2014, a second revolution led to the separation
of eastern Ukraine and war with Russia. Few people still have
illusions about the current government, but the freedom, openness,
and energy that made the revolutions so intoxicating remain.
In his series Maskirovka (2016–17), the German photographer
Tobias Zielony has captured this atmosphere in all its colors and
moods. The parks, streets, clubs, and alienating buildings where
he photographed Kiev’s LGBT scene are shrouded in a permanent
mist. His young, sometimes gender-nonconforming subjects
Arnold van Bruggen is a journalist and
documentary flmmaker based in Texel,
the Netherlands. Translated from the Dutch
by Cecily Layzell.
AP E RTUR E 1 24
Make Up;
Pages 128–29:
Cover; Line
All photographs from the
series Maskirovka, 2016–17
Courtesy the artist and
KOW, Berlin
Reports of the death of downtown have been greatly exaggerated.
Every week, creative renegades of eighteen or twenty or twentyfive flock to New York—outcasts in their hometowns, seeking
a place to belong. Not long ago, Ethan James Green was one
of them; he then became one of their more stylish chroniclers.
“I just feel more calm when I’m with those kids,” the now twentyseven-year-old Green says of his subjects, emissaries from
a generation that has bushwhacked new expanses of gender
diversity. “I found the people that I can relate to, being a weirdo
back home, and then coming here, and then meeting all these
people and realizing, Oh, my God, you were there and I was here,
looking and dreaming about the same things.”
Green grew up in Caledonia, Michigan, a small town outside
of Grand Rapids. As a child, he spent a lot of time in the woods.
When his cousin Esther got into sewing, Green staged photo
shoots. He would frequent Macy’s—“the one place we had
high fashion in Grand Rapids”—and the girls at the cash register
told him he should be a model. “So I started googling and found, and I saw, Oh, you can be a skinny guy and model.
I had never seen anybody in a picture who looked like me.”
He signed with Ford Models in 2007, when he was seventeen,
and moved to New York soon after.
It took several years before he got back behind the camera,
thanks to the mentorship of David Armstrong. Part of the Boston
School of countercultural portraitists that included Nan Goldin
and Mark Morrisroe, Armstrong shot Green for his 2011 book
615 Jefferson Avenue. Green wound up working for him at his
row house in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which Armstrong
let him use as a testing ground. As Green was working on images
for VMan magazine, Armstrong, who died in 2014, wandered
in and said, “Ethan, doll, that’s fucking divine!” Still, Green was
unsatisfied working with models and stylists. While organizing
Armstrong’s proofs, he realized he wanted to shoot “real” people.
“I thought I would look for the equivalents of the people in David’s
pictures, but today.”
He found them at nightclubs, at Fashion Week events,
on Instagram, and built a network of friends that includes such
binary-flouting muses as Torraine Futurum and Ser BrandonCastro Serpas. His portraits—many taken in Corlears Hook Park,
where the Lower East Side meets the East River—bring to mind
Diane Arbus’s midcentury studies of gender nonconformists,
except Green emphasizes not their otherness, but their beauty
and empowerment. Today’s trans youth, after all, have the
cultural agency to tell their own stories, and Green treats them
as collaborators.
The results are snapshots of a community, one in which
Green is both insider and outsider. The transgender model
and actress Hari Nef, who became one of Green’s subjects after
he spotted her smoking outside a club, says, “When it comes
to ‘the kids’—the downtown kids, the nightlife kids, the Tumblr
kids—the fashion industry tends to lurk rather than include.
The kids wind up on mood boards, but rarely on the runways
or in the ad campaigns they inspire. Ethan rejects this paradigm.
In Ethan’s world, the kids who inspire him ought to be (and are)
the subjects of his work. Ethan is an artist among so-called
image makers.”
Michael Schulman is an arts editor and
regular contributor to The New Yorker
and the author of Her Again: Becoming
Meryl Streep (2016).
Maria and Massima, 2017
P I CT U RE S 13 1
This page:
Dara, 2017
Nitzan, 2014
AP E RTU R E 13 2
Haize, 2015
This page:
Marcs, 2015
P I CT U RE S 13 5
This page:
Ser, 2015
Torraine, 2015
All photographs courtesy
the artist
AP E RTU R E 13 6
Fine Art Large Format Photography | Hand Printed, Fiber Base Silver Gelatin Images
Venice Gallery & Studio | Big Cypress Gallery, Everglades | St. Armands Gallery, Sarasota
941.486.0811 |
Jack Flame Sorokin,
Musician Jasmine Charles
of Chargaux for Refinery29,
2016, digital photograph.
MICA Photography alumnus,
B.F.A. 2015
David Bush
Laurie Dahlberg
Tim Davis
Barbara Ess
Larry Fink
Daphne Fitzpatrick
An-My Lê
Tanya Marcuse
Gilles Peress
Luc Sante
Stephen Shore
Laura Steele
Ginger Shore, Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida,
November 17, 1977
Stephen Shore, program director
Visual AIDS is pleased to present
Zanele Muholi
Thabile, Johannesburg 2014
11 x 14 inches
Edition of 25
$1,000 – price subject to change
as availability becomes limited
Proceeds support the programs of Visual AIDS.
Visual AIDS utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking
dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists, and preserving
a legacy, because AIDS is not over.
To view or purchase, contact:
Visual AIDS
or purchase online at
Image: Courtesy of the artist
and Yancey Richardson Gallery
Aperture Beat
Stories from the Aperture community—
publications, exhibitions, and events
In the Garden
How are the immaculate gardens of Versailles,
the raw beauty of a forest, a typical suburban
lawn, and a sunflower maze related? “I have
been engaged with gardening for almost as
long as I have been interested in photography,”
says Sarah McNear, coauthor, with Jamie Allen,
of The Photographer in the Garden. “But this
is decidedly not a garden photography book.”
Instead, across images from William Henry
Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawing of a leaf to
Wolfgang Tillmans’s postmodern still life of
lillies in a San Pellegrino vase, The Photographer
in the Garden explores the garden as a cultivated
landscape of ideas. “We have taken some
liberties that hopefully may surprise, provoke,
or charm the viewer,” McNear says.
The Photographer in the Garden will be
published by Aperture in April 2018.
Sheron Rupp, Trudy in Annie’s Sunflower Maze, Amherst,
MA, 2000
Courtesy the artist
The Future of the City
The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami
devastated the photographer Naoya
Hatakeyama’s hometown of Rikuzentakata,
Japan, killed his mother, and destroyed
the house he grew up in. Hatakeyama
has extensively documented how humans
transform landscapes to build cities, but
the tsunami reversed this relationship: nature
demolished homes, cities, lives. “I surveyed
Kesenmachi from the ravaged mountaintop
and located the bridge piers of Anehabashi—
and realized, yes, that was where our house
used to be,” he recounts in Excavating the
Future of the City, his first English-language
survey, which includes five series, among
them photographs of limestone quarries
and factories.
Excavating the Future of the City:
Photographs by Naoya Hatakeyama will
be published by Aperture in April 2018.
Naoya Hatakeyama, Kesencho-Atagoyama,
October 20, 2013
© the artist
The Collector
“Engaging with the photobook community,
and collecting, has been a passion and
obsession for the last twenty years,” David
Solo, an Aperture trustee and patron, remarked
last summer. Solo is an inveterate bibliophile
whose steady international travel allows
him to routinely augment his collection with
contemporary and historical ink-on-paper gems.
Aperture Connect members recently
visited Solo’s Brooklyn Heights home to view
his expansive library. Among the books that
Solo pulled off a shelf to share with guests was
a 1968 psychedelic confection by Tadanori
Yokoo, a master of avant-garde graphic design.
“Photobooks are a platform for a nearly limitless
range of combinations of graphics, design,
text, and photographs with which to express
an artist’s ideas,” Solo said.
Learn more about Aperture membership
Cover of Tadanori Yokoo, Isakushu (Posthumous works)
(Tokyo: Gakugei Shorin, 1968)
Collection of David Solo
Prison Nation
Stephen Tourlentes began photographing
prisons after one was built in his hometown
in Illinois. “The night sky was punctuated with
a brilliant glow that changed my perception
of the horizon,” he states. “This transformation
of the landscape revealed an unseen human
cargo held in time and place.”
With over two million people currently
in prisons or jails in the United States,
incarceration has become a normalized part
of American culture. Nicole R. Fleetwood,
contributing editor of Aperture’s spring
issue, “Prison Nation,” has spent much of
her personal and academic life immersed in
images that envision the lives shaped by the
criminal justice system in the United States.
“Prison Nation” will include a wide range of
photographic approaches, like Tourlentes’s
haunting landscapes, in considering criminal
justice as one of the most urgent social
issues of our time. As Fleetwood notes,
images can normalize the phenomenon of
mass incarceration—or give visibility to how
abnormal living in custody truly is.
Aperture Issue 230, “Prison Nation,”
will be available March 2018.
Stephen Tourlentes, New York State Prison,
Auburn, NY, 2003
Courtesy the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
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Object Lessons
Movie Poster for The Queen, 1968
Collection of Zackary Drucker
“All drag queens want is love,” says Sabrina at the beginning
of Frank Simon’s 1968 documentary The Queen. Following a
group of drag performers and trans women preparing for the
1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant at Town Hall,
in New York, Simon’s film charts the lengths to which they go
to attain adoration. The pageant emcee, a drag queen and gender
pioneer later known as Flawless Sabrina, was only in her twenties
when The Queen was made. The opening shots, reproduced
on the film’s poster, portray Sabrina’s ritual of getting cameraready—applying makeup and wigs, and donning glorious
dresses. It’s a transformation not only of man to woman, but
of anonymous citizen to fierce performer.
Despite lacking any sexual content, The Queen was X-rated
upon release, restricting where and when it could be shown.
(Cross-dressing was still illegal in the United States in the 1960s;
Flawless Sabrina was arrested more than one hundred times.)
But the content is relatively tame. “So here are all these gentlemen
in bras, diaphanous gowns, lipstick, hairfalls and huffs—
discussing their husbands in the military in Japan, or describing
their own problems with the draft,” Renata Adler wrote in
the New York Times when the film opened, praising the queens’
“detailed parodies” of women. “One grows fond of all of them.”
No doubt such fondness derives from both the impeccable
performances in swimwear and evening gowns, and the
intimacy of the queens’ lives out of costume, spending
their downtime in unassuming hotel rooms and gossiping
about men.
In the 1960s, Flawless Sabrina hosted pageants throughout
the United States, and the venues well beyond New York’s
glamorous underground scene revealed a thriving drag subculture.
“The places that were kind of off the beaten track,” she said
in a 1993 interview, “were the places where the largest number
of drag queens would come out of the hills in sausage curls and
hoop skirts.” Appearing long before Jennie Livingston’s famous
account of the Harlem drag balls in Paris Is Burning (1990),
or the millennial-era television hit RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Queen
resisted the sensational in favor of the vérité and remains an
indispensable part of trans history.
—The Editors
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