Sophia Wallace is a photographer living and working in New York City. I first came across her work on the blog Genderqueer, promoting Wallace’s entry in the ArtTakesLondon contest (she recently won the Curator award!).
Wallace uses photography and portraiture to challenge normative assumptions about gender, race, and heteronormativity. I could probably write a blog post on each of her series, the photographs are so striking. Instead, I’ll highlight a few of them and I encourage you to visit her site and browse yourself. (All of the following images are directly from SophiaWallacePhotography.com and SophiaWallace.com).
In her On Beauty series, Wallace took professional male models (“living representations of idealized masculinity”) and photographed them in the way women are traditionally photographed–passively. “Mostly I asked the models to look away–to be looked at. I asked them to hold their arms close to their bodies as if they felt vulnerable. This was not ‘natural’ for them.” Not only was Wallace making visible the ways women are depicted and posed in many fashion and advertising spreads (not looking at the camera, off-balance, vulnerable), she was also creating a way for men to be presented in non-normative ways of masculinity. One model wears a veil, perhaps commentary on the one-dimensional, biased way Muslim femininity is often construed in mainstream photography and media. She ends her artist statement with questions, asking the viewer how they perceive the piece.
I especially like her collection Modern Dandy, which explores how the fashion style is used to express androgyny. From her artist’s statement:
My many years of focusing on gender, race, and constructions of beauty led me to dandyism as a radical position for art making and social critique. Indeed, dandyism’s subversive aesthetic of beauty disrupts normative gender in fascinating ways. Beauty is defined in almost all contexts as the domain of femininity which is commonly understood as frivolous, weak, and passive. The dandy is neither traditionally feminine or masculine. Rather, the dandy is an aestheticized androgyny available to men, women, and transgender individuals. Herein lies its power and its danger.
Wallace also used fashion-shoot aesthetic in her series Berlin LookBook, where she documented female masculinity in the German capital city. But she doesn’t always rely on fashion and aesthetic to explore gender, race, and identity. There’s power in photographing the everyday lives and love of her subjects too. Her 2002-2007, Girls Will Be Boys documents female masuclinity in four different North American cities.
<img alt=”Three photographs from Sophia Wallace’s series Girls Will Be Boys. The first two photographs feature the same woman, who is masculine-presenting and of color. She have short hair that is buzzed on the side. In the first photograph she is embraced by a lover inside an apartment by an open window. The title is “Safe Embrace.” In the second photograph she looks straight at the camera in a determined manner as she climbs what looks like a fire escape staircase, with both hands on the rails. The title is “At her girl’s place.” The third photograph is of another person, Desiree. Desiree has short cropped hair with a buzzed mohawk, and she is at work in work attire, a green button-down and work pants covered in white paint. She holds what looks like a welding helmet, and is standing in a large, metal circular cylinder, and is looking directly at the camera. The title is “Desiree at Work.” ” src=”http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3159/5837085940_fd4621b605_z.jpg”>
Wallace also turned the camera on herself in a more intimate series, titled Truer, which documents her homelife–challenging notions of domesticity, female desire, and sexuality.