Nelson Morales was seven years old when he saw a Muxe for the first time. Seeing an individual he didn’t identify as a woman proudly wearing a tiny swimsuit, fluffy feather boa and glistening sequins at a local festival, he was “shocked”, he says.
But Morales was growing up in the city of Oaxaca, central Mexico, where the Muxes are regarded as a third gender – assigned male at birth but interested in codes of dress and behaviour associated with femininity, often from a young age. Asked to photograph the Muxes community, Morales soon found himself liberated by them.
He continued to photograph the Muxes – and himself – for eight years, hoping to capture the complexity of their lives and to confront his own identity as he joined their community. His book, Musas Muxes, is published by Mexican collective Inframundo.
In the city of Oaxaca, the Muxes are regarded as a third gender. They are assigned male at birth, but from a young age they dress and behave in ways associated with the female gender.
One day, Morales was asked by a friend to photograph this gender-fluid community, and soon he found himself liberated by them. Over eight years he photographed them, and himself, hoping to capture the complexity of the Muxes lives, while confronting his own identity in the sensual and challenging space of the Muxes.
Born in Italy, Luca Desienna has been a freelance photographer since 1998. One of the co-founders of Gomma Books in 2004, he has produced four Gomma magazines plus two publications devoted to black-and-white photography, MONO volumes I and II, working with image-makers such as Roger Ballen, Antoine D’Agata, Trent Parke, Daido Moriyama, and Anders Petersen. Petersen has described Desienna’s personal project My Dearest Javanese Concubine as “a story full of vitamins and warm energy”, and the series was shown at the official selection of the 2012 Arles Voies Off. My Dearest Javanese Concubine is now being made into a book by Gomma Books in collaboration with VOID and BlowUp Press, available for pre-order now and due for publication in May.
“Her project talks about the identity that the state wants women to project in public,” says Vivienne Gamble, director of Seen Fifteen and now curator of the show Catharsis for Belfast Exposed. “She comes from a family where they didn’t have those rules behind closed doors at home. She was conflicted about having this public-facing image, and this different, much more relaxed and liberal, private existence.” She’s talking about Shenasmenah, a project by Iranian-born photographer, filmmaker and curator Amak Mahmoodian included in the three-person Catharsis show.
Transgender rights and representation has steadily built momentum over recent years, with public figures like Laverne Cox, Antony Hegarty and Caitlyn Jenner bringing a broader spectrum of gender nonconformity to the public sphere. Los Angeles-based photographer Dave Naz’s work revolves around the diversity of identity, and in his recent book Genderqueer (Rare Bird), he documented communities who are “transgender, intersex, pangender, and every shade in between”. We spoke to him about the difficulties of handling such a sensitive subject and reaching out to marginalised communities. Why did you decide to make the shift from fetish photography to your recent work on pan-gender identity? I’ve never considered myself a fetish photographer, although I have covered the subject through the years in my work. The gender identity series came about when Drew Deveaux emailed about modelling for me – he has a look that defies gender. Around this time I found models Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich online and asked them if I could take their portraits. All three appear on the cover of my book Genderqueer: …
In the 1950s, André Breton, the anarchic poet-founder of Surrealism reached out to the Bordeaux painter and photographer Pierre Molinier. He had become obsessed with the man’s work: sexual, dream-like and utterly transgressive. As it turns out, Molinier was both gay and a transvestite, and through his work employed his body and that of acquaintances to create visions of a hybrid identity, unencumbered by traditional gender notions. Intertwined limbs, many-headed creatures and deformed bodies were not just visual references intended to shock; while Molinier’s tended towards the extreme, his exploration of the erotic foreshadowed work by the likes of Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe. Earlier this year, London’s Richard Saltoun Gallery played host to the first UK exhibition of his work for over 20 years, and at this year’s Paris Photo, Artcurial are presenting a collection of Molinier’s work for sale. Nearly 200 works by Molinier, including photographs, drawings and personal correspondences have been compiled for the auction on Friday 13th November by Emmanuelle Arsan, a muse of the artist who drew equal inspiration from him …
As a child, Álvaro Laiz came to relate photography with travelling, fascinated by the Konica Minolta his dad would carry on holiday. So when he began travelling the world after finishing his studies, it was only fitting he took a camera with him. “I photograph what I do not understand or what scares me,” he says. “I can’t think of anything more terrifying than the idea that a large part of our identity relies on facts and things we can’t control [or] even know exist.” His quest took him to Mongolia, a state which lies between the domineering civilisations of Europe, China and Russia and which is in the midst of deep social transformation. Researching the region’s nomadic tribes led him to consider the nation’s founder, Genghis Khan, who declared homosexuality illegal and punishable by death in a bid to increase the population. Eight hundred years later, little has been done to rehabilitate the community. With Transmongolian, the Secret History of the Mongols, Laiz sheds light on the lives of the country’s transgendered population, and …