Helium-4

Though it is becoming more accepted that gender exists on a spectrum and sexuality can be fluid, it remains difficult for a person who doesn’t identify within the hetero-normative binary to establish a life within society. In her 2004 book ‘Undoing Gender’, American philosopher Judith Butler theorised ‘what it might mean to undo restrictively normative conceptions of sexual and gendered life.’ Butler’s philosophy is that ‘your gender is acted out instinctively without your knowing as a reaction to social norms. One is always doing gender with others even if the other is imaginary’. 


Using a film noir aesthetic to emphasise the performative aspect of the images this project is an exploration of the concept of acting out one’s gender expressed through self-portraiture. Inspired by photographers such as Claude Cahun, Gillian Wearing and Robert Mapplethorpe, who all use self-portraiture to question preconceptions of gender and identity, the aim was to produce a sequence of dramatic images. The pictures, based on my personal experience, explore the difficult and sometimes contradictory processes of self-invention and self-assertion that can take place when a person’s gender can be challenging to define.