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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Trans Representations: Non-Binary Visual Theory in Contemporary Photography

  • Author(s): Lehner, Ace
  • Advisor(s): Murray, Derek C.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

Trans Self-Representations: Non-Binary Visual Theory in Contemporary Photography, is an interdisciplinary trans visual studies approach to contemporary lens-based self-representations produced by trans and non-binary people. This project is committed to rigorous interdisciplinarity that actively works to undo the partitioning of various identity-based discourses from one another. The project establishes a much-needed field and method of trans visual studies at the intersection of trans studies and visual studies and their methods.

Each of the four chapters of my projects focuses on a particular trans self-representation milestone and sub-genre of trans/ non-binary self-representations and each chapter takes a distinct approach to thinking through the cultural and visual significance of each discrete intervention. Overall the interdisciplinary research brings together trans studies, queer theory, photography theory, critical race studies, cultural studies, media studies and postcolonial theory. The chapters of this project are dedicated to looking at trans self-representations and critically addressing the ways trans self-image photographs have the potential to offer a space wherein makers can interrogate the ways their own changing corporealities engage identity, representation, intervene in the trans visual field, how “matrixes of intelligibility” and “racializing assemblages” The photos tranifest – or bring into being new trans and non-binary identities, forwarding them via performative self-portraiture.

My research reveals that trans and non-binary self-representations are reshaping identity categories and challenging and augmenting contemporary theory and imaging practice. In establishing the field of Trans Visual Studies I also work to establish trans visual studies methods that are non-binary and de-essentialized methods for apprehending contemporary visual culture. This project argues that trans visual culture is a shifting field with diverse representational approaches and corporealities. I also argue that we need increased scholarship in this area and a more in-depth investigation into trans visual culture. To consider the current moment of unprecedented amount of trans visual culture without engaging in trans visual studies analysis of the phenomenon is to conduct critical error and run the risk of missing the significant impact that trans visual culture is having on visual culture, art, identity constituencies, theories of representations and imaging practices.

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