Monday, February 15, 2010

On the failure of language

As the opening of my Coupled exhibition draws closer and I find myself working on generating press, sending invites, etc, I am having more and more trouble accurately describing the couples within the series without sending out press materials the length of a short novel.

My original intent with the series was to photograph queer (which is perhaps not a term everyone would self-identify with) couples who had some connection to a female identity. I sought out couples who were either lesbian identified, queer identified (but both female), or a mixture of female and trans identified, both on the Female-to-Male spectrum and the Male-to-Female spectrum.

But now, I find myself at a loss for words. "Queer" as an identity is likely to exclude some of the older couples in the series who very strongly identify as "lesbian" couples, while a word like "lesbian" would exclude someone such as myself, not to mention all of the other couples with one or two gender variant or transgender identified people. In an effort to get away from this problem, I called the couples "same-sex," but this too has been pointed out as an inaccurate description.

It begs the question of how exactly to refer to this work in a concise way without excluding any of its subjects? My intentions were clear from the beginning, and I made sure every sitter knew what the goal of the project was, as well as my intention to make it public. I strongly believe that the problem is not with the images- everyone loved the images I took of them and felt happy to be a part of the project. The problem has arisen with the addition of language, specifically language meant to label and/or identify the identities of the people within the images.

Simply put, no two couples in the series share the exact same personal identity, but they do share a connection to the queer community (or whatever they would like to call it) as well as a willingness to be photographed with their chosen partner and displayed to the world proudly. I would hope that the images speak on their own, and for this reason the titles are simply the names of the subjects and do not further identify the people by their gender identity or orientation. But the problem still remains that there has to be a way to write about this project, somewhat concisely, for the purposes of exhibition.

I have drafted a statement that I hope captures this essence without excluding anyone, and I'll copy it from my website below. I welcome any feedback or thoughts on this issue.

Statement for 'Coupled':

is a series of twenty large-format Polaroids of couples, taken between 2006 and 2008. While the majority of the forty people in the photographs were born female and identify as female, some were born female and transitioned to be male, while others were born male and transitioned to be female. Others, still, are more ambiguous in their gender identity, but every person has some connection to a female identity, whether past or present. The images are direct and posed, with the same lighting and bold, red background in each image in an attempt to direct the focus entirely onto the subject. The couples are simultaneously unique and similar, becoming almost specimens of a cultural group through repetition of composition. While the project is documentary in nature, capturing a specific group of couples at a historic time, especially in Massachusetts, it also raises universal questions about attraction, love, and the nature of relationships. Because the images were taken over a period of time, several of the couples ended their relationships and began new ones, two of which I then photographed again. The inclusion of the same people with different partners alludes to change and the impermanent nature of human relationships.

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