DEFINE YOUR BEAUTY – Beauty Revisited is an extension of The Gender Portraiture Project bringing together photographic portraits with personal narrative into the context of American material culture and power. I ask participants: “How do you define your own sense of beauty? When you look inside yourself who do you see?” My work confronts society’s displacement of female identity. I am looking to open up possibilities of being. To discover how dominant societal expectations rule our gender. My goal is to have a critical mass of portraits reflecting gender variations and to show how birth, class, family, country of origin and ancestry, personal taste, body type, age and whatever other qualifiers are placed on us affect us. “Gender variations” does not necessarily mean trans, but can also be one’s interpretation of what is feminine or masculine. To think about times when we were awarded or punished in relation to our “appropriate” gender-like behaviors or looks.
In my studio, located in Stenton Guild, (4232-36 Stenton Ave, in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, PA), I have set up a portrait photography studio where people come in to talk about gender and have their portraits taken. I invite the public to share personal stories of gender stereotyping and be photographed. You can pose in your street clothes, an outfit from your personal collection, or we can work together to conceive of the ideal costume.
Stories told by participants are about being stereotyped. What is appropriate behavior in relation to perceived gender? How should we look? What are the expectations depending on class, ethnic heritage, and family background?
Instead of relying on clues relating to dress, one may choose to explore the physical body relating to gender expectations. For many of us attaining the “perfect” body is a symbol for the ultimate gender self. Many struggle with disfiguration and some accentuate what nature gave us. Others make do with what they have. As an artist, I am also looking for people interested in body critique – making commentary on the gender body.
Please email the artist, Laureen Griffin, if you are interested in participating.
Thank you to all the participants of the first “Gender Talk” and to Heather Love for leading a very moving discussion. My hope is that the conversations will continue to move us within our daily lives as well as spread into others’.
Heather introduces the discussion:
“One of the things that seems interesting to me about the project is that it is through photography. So people are already talking about the difference between gender as something that people can see and something that is internal, what is on the inside – what people don’t see. I thought we could start by talking about what is gender? Is it that stuff that people see or is it something on the inside, or maybe that whole problem of the part on the inside and the part on the outside?”
Does the inside match what people see on the outside?
For some of us our hair helped signify gender, others said gesture was much more significant. Which in turn lead us into the dilemma of public display of emotion.
HAIR #1 hair01_1.mp3 Continue reading
Professor Heather Love, of University of Pennsylvania’s English Department, has graciously agreed to lead our first Gender Talk session. In preparation participants are asked to think about the following questions:
–How often do you think about gender? Is gender an important part of your self-image? Why or why not?
–How do you express your gender? How important are clothing, haircut, gesture, behavior, etc?
–What do you think was most important in forming your gender as a child? For instance, your family’s opinion/comments? Interactions with other children? The media?
–Is your gender something that you have seen as stable across your life? Or have you gone through a lot of changes in how you experience your gender? If so, what has caused those changes?
–How do you think other people perceive you in terms of your gender? How well does that perception match up with the way you experience your gender? Are there parts of your gender identity that other people can’t see?
–What other aspects of your identity do you think are significant in determining the way other people see your gender? How is your racial, class, or ethnic identity bound up with your gender?
–Do you see your sexuality as being closely tied to your gender identity or not?
–What are things that you enjoy about your gender? What is frustrating or difficult about your gender?
–Can you imagine a world without gender difference? Is that a world you would want to live in?
Laureen says I am the most elusive of the people she’s photographed. I guess because my relationship to gender, my body, and sex is still unraveling, even at this reasonably late point. Like so many things in my life, I often don’t know where to stand or get a frame of reference.
It was interesting to me the shift I felt from the first photo session to the second. In the first, I was largely just “a guy in a dress” even though I did my best to twist myself into interesting, if not attenuated shapes that would make my body look more traditionally feminine. I think I was out to prove it was OK for me to be here doing this. I did the shoot mainly as an experience experiment. Continue reading
I have been playing around with the image of the sheela-na-gig in my mind and decided to explore that image in some of these photos. It is an image that combines power and vulnerability, and because of my own ambivalence about being a woman, which has been equivalent with being violated for much of my life, this exposed power allows me to embrace a femininity that I would never have allowed in the past.
I have been thinking of the exposed, exaggerated vulva of the sheela-na-gig as a symbol of controlling and embracing the strength of the feminine. In the past, my relationship with my own sexual/gendered self was filled with disgust. I viewed my own body, my sexuality, as a scar, evidence of all the past abuses I had suffered and all the ways that I allowed myself to be violated. Now I am beginning to embrace my sexual body for its power. I am learning to see myself as feminine when in the past, I resisted femininity, feeling exposed and weak. These photos speak to my newly-forming visions of the feminine as powerful.
Wow – coming out….I “came out” back in 1999 when I was 36 years old. I remember thinking: “I have never felt so feminine in my life!” After years of struggling to wear lingerie to please a man, I was thrilled to adorn my body with the very same piece of clothing for the pleasure of a woman. That was the beginning, until the butch/fem thing crept into my dating life and once again, I did not want to seem fem for the sake of the existence of masculinity. I am spiteful… Included in my journey is getting sober, going to therapy both physical and talk. In the past 8 years I have gone through an incredible roller coaster ride.
First feminine, then androgynous Continue reading
It is 1978: From afar – I catch myself watching CJ at the “back door” smoking cigarettes like the rest of us, but never talking to anyone. CJ is a few years older than me. CJ and I never speak and we do not seem to have the same friends. It isn’t until one day when Mr. D. our principal calls “Cindy” to his office. CJ is a girl, at least according to my high school principal. Soon after my new found awareness, Denise comes to me saying “You are the only one I can trust, but I must talk to someone. I have been fooled and I am so embarrassed.” I barely know Denise, we are in a few classes together, but rarely speak. Maybe we smoke the same brand of cigarettes and bum off each other from time to time. I never know why people trust me with their secrets. Anyway, Denise had had a date with CJ and was revolted to find a wad of tissue in CJ’s crotch in exchange for the penis she was expecting to find. I reassure Denise, that it was OK and CJ was most likely not trying to fool her, but was certainly taking on an identity that felt more secure. Today – I can not remember how it all turned out, but I never again saw CJ smoking at the back door. I think CJ dropped out of high school.
A few years later, I found myself in a class titled “Anthropology of the Family”. I thought – this is it! We talked and read about individual roles in the family, nature vs.nurture, and gender – including babies born with ambiguous genitals. How we are raised vs. what our body chemistry is. Unfortunately due to my own fears of ambiguous gender roles in myself, and fear of getting too close to the subject matter at hand, I dropped out. I also thought my parents would see the class as irrelevant – so when I changed majors from psychology to art, I kept Biology to keep my science oriented family happy. Now here I am again – only this time my family will just have to make do! 🙂
The Gender Portraiture Project is one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life!
Reading Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, an introduction, volume 1:
pg. 53 – 54
“I suppose that the first two points will be granted me; I imagine that people will accept my saying that, for two centuries now, the discourse on sex has been multiplied rather than rarefied; and that if it has carried with it taboos and prohibitions, it has also, in a more fundamental way, ensured the solidification and implantation for an entire sexual mosaic. Yet the impression remains that all this has by and large played only a defensive role. By speaking about it so much, by discovering it multiplied, partitioned off, and specified precisely where one had place it, what one was seeking essentially was simply to conceal sex: a screen-discourse, a dispersion-avoidance. Until Freud at least, the discourse on sex Continue reading
On The DL
Gender Portraiture Project
by Tami Fertig
Published: October 9, 2007
Laureen Griffin wants to take your picture. Not only that. She wants to
have a conversation about gender norms and stereotypes while setting up
the shot. As part of her ongoing “Gender Portraiture Project,” Griffin —
AIRSPACE’s current 40th Street artist in residence — has created a
temporary photography studio at the West Philly gallery, and is inviting you
to stop in, pose and chat.
Though open to everyone, the project has thus far attracted people who don’t fit in or, at least, don’t think they fit in — a situation Griffin knows all too well. As a kid, she played with Tonka trucks and matchbox cars, climbed trees and made bows and arrows. “I always had to go next door to play with the boys because the closest thing my parents would buy for me was a Barbie camper,” she says. Indeed, the project stems from Griffin’s own desire to come to terms with feeling out of place. And, in the spirit of being open and accepting, she encourages participants to dress as any gender persona and pick any fantasy setting. (“One subject wanted to be seen in the Victorian era,” she says.)
In addition to showcasing several of Griffin’s previous works on paper, the exhibit features six new portraits, framed or mounted on wood panel, with more to be added throughout the month. Though the conversations are not included in the pieces, Griffin hopes to eventually
print or record them. “My goal is to have a critical mass of stories and portraits reflecting gender variations and to show how class, family, personal taste, body type, age and whatever other qualifiers are placed on us affect us,” she says. “I want to inspire dialogue about how societal expectations rule our gender.”
© Philadelphia City Paper
Cassendre Xavier wrote this lovely article. Please click on image to download pdf.