Photographer Laurence Philomène Captures Non-Binary People as They Want to Be Seen
By Marili Persson - 4 min read
Gravitating towards particular themes as part of her self-discovery, French-Canadian photographer Laurence Philomene draws from her own experiences and reality when creating her imagery. By using color combinations and examining gender binaries, she creates fine art imagery that evokes feeling.
Laurence, who identifies as non-binary using she/her and they/them pronouns, exploresthemes surrounding identity, femininity and color theory. Fascinated bythe power that colorcan have in conveying emotions, she’scapturing transgender people in her community as they wish to be seen.
Tell us bit about your photography. How did you first get started, and how have you developed your style?
I started taking a more seriousinterest in photography when I was around 13-14 - at the time, I got really into collecting Blythe dolls and I would photograph my dolls and that’s how I learned to pay attention to composition, lighting, colors, etc.
I’vedeveloped my style by obsessivelyphotographing everything I can and working on my craft every day for over 10 years. Over time, I’ve focused onspecific elements that felt the most natural to me when photographing and brought me the most joy; daylight, bright colors, photographing people I love.
Could you tell us a bit about the gender dynamics at play in your work?
I started working around gender identity in my work in 2012 - I was interested in examining masculinity andfemininity more specifically than the boy/girl dynamic. A lot of my early gender work is an expression of my own gender projected onto other people; a feeling of discomfort mixed with a fascination for femininity.
“This work is more about showing someone’s identity outside of the norms of gender.”
As a trans person myself, a lot of the work is autobiographical in a way. More recently, Ihave beenphotographing myself and my friends who identify asnon-binary and asking them how they’d like to be shot, howthey see themselves, etc. I’d say this work is more documentary and also lessabout gender, it’s more about showing someone’s identity outside of the norms of gender.
You use a lot of pastel colors in your photography: What is your relationship to colors? What does this say about yourself as an artist?
Colors make me happy - there’s enough grey in the world. There’s definitely some colors that have a lot of cultural meaning attached to them, for example pink, so I like to play with that. I also like toassociatecertain colors to my identity, for example orange,becauseI have orange hair. But at the end of the day, I want my use of colour to be playful, to make people smile and to calm me down.
“Colors make me happy - there’s enough grey in the world.”
Can you talk a bit about your series“Non-Binary Portraits”? What sparked the initialidea? What’s the concept behind the series?
I started this series in 2016, when I was starting to see a rise in trans representation in the media. However, the representation I was seeing was still very set in binary ideas of gender and didn’t really reflect the reality of the transcommunity I exist in, so I wanted to create images that showed another side of trans lives and trans bodies.
“I wanted to create images that showed another side of trans lives and trans bodies.”
The idea behind itwas also to shift the dynamic of trans people being photographed by cis photographers and all that comes with that. I asked eachparticipant what their favourite way of presenting themselves, or their dream self is and used that as a starting point for eachportrait so it was more of a collaborative effort.
What does non-binary mean to you?
To me, being non-binary means that I exist as a bit of everything, and that my identity is ever changing, evolving. It also means a sense of never identifying with what society has told me I was since I was a kid and choosing my own path. Gender is a very confusing space tonavigate, and I’m still working on it. Growing up I was told a lot that I did not fit in a lot, so this is about reclaiming it in a wayand making peace with myself.
“Gender is a very confusing space to navigate, and I’m still working on it.”
In what ways is the representation of trans, intersex, gender-fluid and non-binaryimportant to you?
It is my entire life. I think for a lot of people these questions are just hypotheticals, but for myself and for the people in my photographs it’s an every day reality - I create these images because I’m trying to make sense of myself, and hopefully it helps other people feel validated along the way! I really want to do more than just representation though, and I try to spend as much of my time and energy as possible supporting my queer and trans family and showing up for local organizations as well.
“There’s a million different ways to express androgyny.”
Do you think your series dispel any misconceptions about a fluid gender identity?
I think the main misconception that people have regarding gender fluidity is that androgyny = masculinity, but there’s a million different ways to express androgyny.
How do you want to bring your perception of gender across in your images?
My hope is always just to show people as they are, and to show the beauty that’s in everyone. And also that it’s okay to have fun with the way you present yourself: that’s something I need to remind myself of daily because it’s so easy to get down on yourself.
What do you think gender means in 2018? Do you see this awareness of gender and sexual fluidity as the beginning of something that will last?
That’s a really big question that I can’t really answer, I can only speak for myself. For me, gender in 2018 means knowing myself, taking ownership over my body.I definitely don’t think gender/sexual fluidity is going to go away any time soon, it’s been there throughout history, in a variety of different cultures and will always show up time and time again, there’s no question around that.
What’s your dream project?
I would lovetobe able to create big scenes from scratch, I dream of houses painted neon colors. I won’t reveal any ideas I have so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see! I am also working on a retrospective book and amemoir of some sort, sohopefully that comes to life when the time is right!
This post was created as part of #NotYourCliche, our movement away from antiquated stock stereotypes and towards a more relevant, inclusive, representative view of global culture and society. You can find more of Laurence’s work on her Instagram profile or personal website.