Trans Self-Imaging Praxis, Decolonizing Photography, and the Work of Alok Vaid-Menon

Ace Lehner

As an identity and an analytic, trans offers a compelling challenge to photographic discourse. Trans, as a rejection of the assigned sex at birth, is a rejection of what was assigned to us based on our physical attributes, an assumption made about us based on our surface aesthetics. Trans rejects the physical surface in favor of living our lives based on an internal feeling: something that is not visible but manifested visually in a way that plays with the aesthetics and expectations of gender. As trans scholar and artist micha cárdenas has observed, trans is often about a rejection of the visible. To picture trans subjects, then, is to make a surface rendering of something (the person’s outward appearance) that is already de-essentialized from any necessary essence or “truth.” Trans as an analytic offers a method to view the photographic image not only as distinct and distant from the referent but in tension with it. Trans as a method prompts a rethinking of surfaces in relation to essence, identity, authenticity, and fixity, unfixing the surface from the subject.

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Ace Lehner is an interdisciplinary scholar and artist specializing in critical engagement with identity and representation; history, theory, and criticism of contemporary art; visual studies; photography theory and queer and trans theory. Lehner’s artistic practice often embraces collaboration and primarily utilizes photography and video to mine the complex relation between representations and the constitution of identities. Lehner was a recipient of the Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship in the Fine Arts and the Sheffield Art League Scholarship.

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