To see and show people in a manner like the people portrayed see themselves – Bettina Rheims links her humanly approach with her own artistic style and created with »Gender Studies« an impressive series that is of high social aspiration and essential meaning. At the same time it strikes with its atmospheric aesthetics. The project which was initially thought as a call on Facebook for people who feel »different« evolved for Bettina Rheims to an intense project with young transgender that fascinated the photographer through their androgyny and transsexuality. The result presented in the form of large size photographs equals an artistic study of people who act beyond normative and partly stereotyped classifications of gender. It is moreover the change between gender depended on daytime and mood of the portrayed that gives them a sort of freedom within our society, however, the recipient is often confused and at the same time fascinated by that.
The view of the viewer tries to classify the portrayed but they sometimes are in a transient state of change between both sexes and sometimes in a constant balance between them. Wearing cut up, ripped, transparent underwear, the seemingly fragile bodies, equally exposed and veiled, tell the stories of their lives. The eyes of the protagonists sometimes seem brave, sometimes shy but they are all searching for the confrontation with the camera – and the viewer. Whilst they face the beholder they trigger the wish to know more about the individuals. The internationally successful top model Andrej Pejic, who presents for labels such as Jean-Paul Gaultier or Michalsky both men’s and women’s wear on the catwalk, is considered to be the epitome of the androgynous model and also belongs to the portrayed like Kael T. Block who was born a girl and whose openly shown scars are a reminiscence to the numerous surgeries. They let us recognize how strange we react when our habitual perspective is challenged.
The artistic realization is shaped by a pure and cool aesthetic, that is uttered by a light and clear set up that shows the portrayed from different angles. Although it is a series the artist manages to clearly show the individual, mental and temperamentally differences between the portrayed – some of them radiate strength and confidence, others again an atmospheric and at the same time moving anxiety, shyness or solitude. The depicted persons are connected through the artistic setting with an extraordinary Madonna-like presence.
About Bettina Rheims
Bettina Rheims was born in 1952 in Neuilly-sur-Seine next to Paris. Her career as a photographer started at the end of the 1970s after she had worked for a short period of time as a model. From then onwards her interest has layed in feminity with all its erotic and voyeuristic facets. Besides the collaboration with prestigious fashion magazines and advertising agencies Bettina Rheims published numerous prestigious photo books, including »Female Trouble« (1991) and »Chambre Close« (1992). While working on the series »Modern Lovers« and the book project »Kim«, which arose out of the intense collaboration with the transsexual Kim Harlow, Bettina Rheims developed an interest for the artistic involvement with the topic of transsexual and transgender. With her project »Modern Lovers« she refers to the play with androgyny. With »Gender Studies« she advertises the understanding of transgender and shows with the portrayed like the Australian model Andrej Pejic that sexual flexibility allows the individual a lot of freedom, within everybody’s own identity.
In 1994, her hometown Paris awarded her with the Grand Prix de la Photography, an appreciation for the visual involvement with project-topics like the sexual orientation, but also for her erotic and electrifying staging of the female body.