I make photographs, sculptures, and installations. At the center of all of my work is the question, “Who are we, and how do we know?” I often explore the question of identity through the things I know best: myself, my family, my communities. This means that while thematically (word choice: critically?), my art explores identity, topically, my art looks like transgender & queer issues, family & community, and the physical self.
Mostly, I make digital photographs. It is powerful that a photo captures a slice in time of something real. Verifying realness through photo-making is an important part of my practice, especially when it touches on identity, transgender issues, and queer issues, as well as verifying the realness of subjective understandings. (In our digital world of infinite subjective truths, privileging specific perspectives can be productive).
A photograph also references a specific time and place - it references a happening. Even when something is performed, the photographic recording makes that performance something that occured - it moves from acting to action.
When my work extends from photograph to installation, that is to implicate the viewer further into the work. It’s not enough that a viewer sees it, or that they are reflected in the surface. In the case of an installation, the line between subject and subject is broken - the viewer exists in the same world as the art.
When my work includes sculptures, it is so that the art can exist in the specific space it is in - in a gallery, on a wall, in a room, in the present - rather than being a photograph and showing a recording of a moment somewhere else.
Accuracy is central to my work, rather than precision. A traditionally precise photograph might be a head-and-shoulders shot of a carefully lit subject, in focus, with a direct gaze. An accurate photograph shows the viewer the important part of the subject’s reality. That reality might be the subject’s emotion, it might be their body they way they see it, it might be the budding shadow of a secret they are avoiding. Accuracy privileges one side of the infinite messy truth of a thing. The formal qualities of an accurate photograph depend on the reality being conveyed.
Given the focus on accuracy versus precision in my work, I use a straightforward but comprehensive set of tools - a simple digital SLR camera, a tripod, a digital cable release or a ten-second timer, and available lighting or at least lighting that can be constructed with available sources. The same with clothing, props, furniture, my body - I use what is around and accurate. I then drive these tools to their maximum potential in a setting, until I reach an image at the limits of what I can make with those tools. Then, I start again.
Even with ubiquitous cameras, we all have defining moments and truths in our lives for which we lack accurate photographs. When I stage or elaborately construct photographs, I make them for the moments and memories for which I lack an image. A “straight” photograph of a family can suggest what is going on, but doesn’t represent the unseen emotions of the subjects. An accurate photograph represents the subjects’ inner truths, and at the same time, is still composed of a record of light particles in the physical world.
When I make a portrait with someone else as the subject, it is a struggle in collaboration. I face the same conflict we all do when face-to-face with another. I want to give them agency in their representation. But at the same time, I am drawn to represent how I see them, and who I want them to be in my life. And often, the image that a subject wants to see is one that shows what they mean to someone else. So, my portraits of others are photos of others, but they are my photos of others.
My self-portraits are often near the borders of the genre. In “Passing as a Patriarch”, I take on the queer tradition of dressing up as someone else in my life, a family member. I take a photo while I pose as them, situated in their clothing, gestures, and pastimes. I find this to be an intimate, transgressive, and illuminating experience.
Recently, I made the photo series “Act of Looking”. This takes on the dearth of sophisticated transgender imagery, and the ways that people know how to look at a body like mine. This project creates a new lexicon of images inclusive of my body, and through that, adds a specific number of ways to see a body.
When I make sculptures, it is to put an object into the world that I believe belongs there. Similar to how I make photographs for the moments I don’t have captured, I make sculptures for the objects I don’t encounter in the world, and believe that I should. The project “Chest” puts my chest into the world as an independent subject, with agency. By existing as a sculpted, hung form, it controls how it interacts with the gaze, installing itself in the viewer’s field of view, rather than waiting to be glanced or stared at.
All of my work is about my own experiences - in my life, in my emotions, and of others. For the viewers who find community and representation in my work, I welcome them warmly. For the viewers who see my work and believe I am very different from them, I hope that they, often so reluctant to explore the issues in my work in their own lives, will initially explore them through my work. I hope they feel safe and insulated, believing we are so far apart. Then, subversively, I hope the viewer will begin to encounter these issues in their own life, and in themself. I will then welcome them too.