Monday, December 08, 2014

A Photos Tells A Thousand Stories

The first time I went to Fantasia Fair there was a woman there who was photographing many of the attendees (only those who wanted to be photographed) and you could arrange to have your portrait by her. It turned out that she was the world known photographer Mariette Pathy Allen, with works shown all over the world, including Brooklyn Museum of Art, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and France’s Bibliotheque Natoinale.

She was interviewed by the National Endowments for the Arts last July
Art Talk with Mariette Pathy Allen 
July 9, 2014
By Paulette Beete

In some ways Mariette Pathy Allen’s career in the arts has been a series of fortuitous—and life-changing—accidents. An encounter with a work by Matisse during a childhood visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art revealed Allen’s innate fluency with visual language. Later, a chance opportunity to attend an off-campus photography workshop while she was studying painting at the University of Pennsylvania changed the direction of her art practice. And a casual invitation to join a group of costumed revelers for breakfast during a New Orleans vacation introduced Allen to the subject matter that’s been the primary focus of her work ever since.

Since Allen’s first book—Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them which revealed the hidden world of male-to-female crossdressers--she has explored the transgender community in its many iterations. Allen’s sensitive portraits are neither about voyeurism nor judgment. Rather, as she explained in our interview, she wants her subjects to have a positive reflection of who they are. “What I realized pretty early on is that these people—crossdressers in particular—were totally misunderstood and maligned by the general public,” Allen said. “And there was nothing for them to look at so that they could identify who they were.”
I have an autographed copies of her first book and her second book, The Gender Frontier and while she was up at Fantasia Fair this year she showed photographs from her newest book, TransCuba.

The interviewer goes on to ask…
NEA: That community has been your subject now for a number of decades. What do you think it is as an artist that brings you back to the same subject? What are the questions that you’re investigating artistically via the community?  
ALLEN: “Questions” is a good way of putting it. I feel like I’m always questioning what is gender? What makes us men and women other than actual anatomy? Why do we decide that certain characteristics are masculine or feminine? What is appearance? All of those kinds of issues of essence and who one is--identity. When I was in high school the course I was most excited about was anthropology because when I studied that I was confirmed in my feelings that any culture can create its own way of looking at things in the world. And that just because we in the West see things in a certain way or made certain assumptions, that doesn’t mean that’s true all over the world. So I guess there’s a part of me that is an anthropologist in that way. I loved the idea of living in this sort of hidden community, which is what it was then, not so much now. And being part of it and being able to step in it so deeply and participating [in it]. And then as an artist, of course, I find it absolutely fascinating.

 What I realized pretty early on is that these people--cross dressers in particular--were totally misunderstood and maligned by the general public. And there was nothing for them to look at so that they could identify who they were. If they went to a library all they could find would be statistical manuals and nothing that could make them feel good about themselves. You know, it was always presented as some kind of illness. And the only other place they could find anything about people in any way like themselves were at porn shops. And for most of the people I knew neither of these directions helped them in any way to understand their own identity. People I met at conventions told me they had grown up thinking they were insane or that they were terribly evil. I mean most churches would not have accepted them--and some churches probably still don’t…. There was so much self-hate and shame and fear and sense of humiliation and everything. And I should say that I was mostly only involved with men at the time, male-to-female cross dressers for the first decade or so.
She goes on to describe how she began photographing us and what message she is trying to communicate with her photographs.

Out Art & Books website has a photo exhibit of her new book TransCuba

No comments:

Post a Comment