Sm{art}: Sophia Wallace: Not Your Typical Fashion Shoot

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 and

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.

Four photographs from Sophia Wallace's series On Beauty, with a male model in each. The first one is a white man with large, red hair. His shirt is off and he is slumped over, not looking directly at the camera, his right arm reaches back to touch his hair. The second photograph features a man wearing a black shirt that blends into the black background. His light skin pops out from the dark background. He has close-cropped hair, is not looking at the camera, and clutches part of his clothing close to him, as if to cover himself defensively. The third picture features a black man looking over his shoulder at the camera. He is shirtless, and has crossed his right hand over his chest, so that you see his fingers lying over his left shoulder. He is slightly off -balance, not standing up quite straight. In the final photograph, a light-skinned man in a white tank top looks directly at the camera. He clutches at the nape of his tank top with his left hand.

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.

Four photographs from Sophia Wallace's series Modern Dandy. In the first picture, a light brown-skinned androgynous person stares demurely at the camera. They wear a grey tank top and dark pants. Their hair is short on the sides and high (but not flat), on top, a modern interpretation of the flat-top. In the second photograph a brown-skinned dandy is capture mid-motion, in the air. They are wearing short black boots, thigh-length shorts, and a vest over a collared shirt. They swing a black bag. They have a black flat top with a bleached stripe down the middle. In the third picture, a brown-skinned woman touches her hand to her forehead like she is thinking or focusing on something. She has a center part and two braids woven closely to her head. She wears a pink-buttoned up shirt with a houndstooth button and a black bowtie. In the fourth picture the three models stand together. They are wearing different outfits, but all are very dandy-esque. They lean on one another in a way that expresses camaraderie.

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=””>

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.
Two photographs from Sophia Wallace's series Truer. In the first, she and her partner lounge in their apartment. Sophia is wearing a black tank top and is leaning on the bed where her partner, in a white tank top and jeans, is lying. They are looking at the camera and look happy and relaxed. The second photograph is a close up of their faces, Sophia's mouth pressed up against her partners nose. You cannot tell if they are asleep or caught in a moment of deep intimacy.

Check out more of her work by browsing her site,, and follow news on her work (supplemented with art politics!) at her blog.

Previously: Jennifer Strunge’s Cotton Monsters are Frighteningly Cool, The Disarming Catherine Eyde

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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2 Comments Have Been Posted

Very cool pictures. I'm going

Very cool pictures. I'm going to be checking out her blog after this post. Her pictures are very powerful and strong. I especially liked the first set shown in this article.

Very cool! I love her eye.

Very cool! I love her eye.

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