Thursday, October 25, 2012
JJ Levine: Gender Switch
Posted by Jay at 9:33 PM
In the history of photographic portraiture, some of the best portraits are those that reveal a small truth about the subject that is rarely seen in most cases. Whether they're shot in a studio, or taken in the subject's natural environment, a good portrait shows who the person really is deep down inside, or who really wants to be. Artist JJ Levine turns that concept on its head with "Switch", a doubly double portraiture series on gender.
JJ Levine is a gender-queer portrait artist whose work primarily deals with sexuality and gender. Levine (who prefers to be referred to as "they" instead of "he" or "she") has been a guest lecturer in different universities regarding gender studies, and has exhibited in different galleries and art festivals.
Levine has a yearly portfolio of portraits entitled "Queer Portraits" which shows transgender or queer gender individuals relaxing in their homes. Each person in the series is someone who has had a strong relationship with Levine; a family member, a friend or a lover. In "Alone Time", two models are photographed in their home, doing ordinary things couples do. The catch is that the two subjects are really only one person playing the role of both the guy and the girl in the relationship.
The series "Switch" is a brilliant extrapolation of Levine's earlier works. A viewer giving these images a passing glance might say that these are just nice double portraits of two couples in prom-style suits and dresses. A closer inspection will reveal that these aren't four different people, but two models who switch attires between each take.
Levine plays around with the conventional ideas of portraiture: strong distinguishing features between male and female roles (accented by the prom-like attire), masculine and feminine poses, dark and pastel colors, and others small details that might not be given a second glance in an ordinary portrait. Here however, the presence or absence of each gender aspect accentuates the differences.
Some of these "switches" are so convincing that it's hard to tell what the original biological genders are for each pair, which is exactly Levine's goal with these portraits. According to the artist, "My aim is to problematize preconceived notions regarding sex, gender, and the body in addition to complicating the identities of the subjects whose ‘true’ genders are never disclosed."
Indeed, the individuals in these portraits play their parts so convincingly that gender almost becomes a non-issue. However, it is ironic that by showing how flexible gender can be through these photographs, Levine also draws attention to the strong gender division brought about by a simple wardrobe change. This is reminiscent of JeongMee Yoon's Pink & Blue Project which shows how ingrained color association is with young boys and girls. Still, Levine successfully makes gender issues the main issue, drawing deeper question about identity, perception, and even fashion.
This is JJ Levine's website. The "Switch" series is here. For a different take on gender issues and how boys and girls begin learning gender differences, take a look at JeongMee Yoon's Pink and Blue Project.