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Mark Seliger – On Christopher Street: Transgender Portraits

Art Scene

Mark Seliger – On Christopher Street: Transgender Portraits

Noted for his portrait work, celebrity photographer Mark Seliger has turned his lens on a lesser known group of individuals for his latest exhibition, film and book project, titled On Christopher Street: Transgender Portraits. On view at 231 Projects, the approximately 40 black and white portraits feature a variety of people whose stories are all linked to the neighborhood informally known as Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.

Mark Seliger, Lexi / Photo by Anders Jones

The subjects in the images are all trans or gender nonconforming. The definitions of these terms are nuanced, evolving and often up for debate among the trans and gender nonconforming community. However, with that in mind, both transgender and transsexual individuals are represented in Seliger’s portraits; the former being people who assume a gender identity or expression that is different than the one assigned at birth regardless of sexual orientation, and the latter being people of a similar disposition, but ones who seek to permanently transition to the gender they identify with through medical assistance. Some of the related medical procedures include bottom and/or top surgery, hormone replacement therapy and other sex reassignment therapies.

Mark Seliger, Jevon Martin / Photo by Anders Jones

The significance of Christopher Street is most prominently known in regard to the location of the Stonewall Inn, which is popularly characterized as the starting point for the modern gay rights movement. On June 28th, 1969, patrons of the establishment launched a rebellion against ongoing police harassment, a symbol of the overall heterosexual status quo and invisibility of the gay community. Seliger’s choice to situate his photographic series in this geographic area is most noticeable in his film, Christopher Street Stories, on view in a separate room at the back of the gallery space as an accompaniment to his portraits.

Exhibition installation view / Photo by Anders Jones

The film features intimate narratives from individuals who all came to Christopher Street and found a sense of belonging within the community of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people who congregated in the area. Whereas Seliger’s photographic portraits feature a central figure posing within the urban landscape of Greenwich Village, the film captures many of these individuals, alone, against a black backdrop. Images speak of the Christopher Street mystique through visual representation as the film captures its legend through the words of its inhabitants.

Mark Seliger, Christopher Street Stories film still / Photo by Anders Jones

Mark Seliger, Christopher Street Stories film still / Photo by Anders Jones

Deeply moving stories with themes of the difficulties of trans and gender nonconforming people in relation to their families, and the subsequent refuge found in like-minded peers on Christopher Street, are consistent throughout Christopher Street Stories. Many interviewees struggled with family acceptance, forced psychological therapeutic interventions, and ultimately noted that the transition of a trans person often requires that their entire family transition with them; meaning, the family embraces the person’s new narrative as a trans male, trans female or gender nonconforming person.

Mark Seliger, Mahayla McElroy / Photo by Anders Jones

Many words and sentiments resonate within the film in regard to what Christopher Street represents to the subjects in this exhibition – home, belonging, freedom, expression, a safe haven, and an adopted family – and these thoughtful visions and voices of Seliger and his subjects are readily available to any visitor to the space who is willing to look and listen.

On Christopher Street: Transgender Portraits is on view through January 7, 2017 at 231 Projects, 231 Tenth Avenue, NYC.