The subjects of these photographs are people who live in Queens and Brooklyn, New York City, who may regard themselves as anything from transgender, genderqueer, agender, and/or androgyne to gender fluid, non-binary, and/or gender-nonconforming.
As a photographer, I sometimes undertake self-assigned projects because of a long-standing interest in a subject or, conversely, because of my total ignorance; the project becomes the means of discovery, of understanding. “Variations” was a combination of the two; I’ve long been interested in the rights of marginalized communities, but I also knew, at the project’s inception, very little about the lives of transgender and gender-conforming people in New York City. I had the initial assumption that those who had chosen to live here did so because of the city’s reputation as a liberal, open-minded place, but that notion was quickly dispelled. Most did tell me that they love the city and that they want to remain here, but more because they’ve grown accustomed to others’ insularity than because of their neighborhood’s acceptance of them. I tried to make portraits that eschewed caricature but that still managed to show the different characters and personalities within the community.
It was both this idea of teasing out individual differences—not unusual in a portrait series, of course—and the importance of language within the L.G.B.T.Q. community that led me to title the series “Variations.” I thought that the word—in my mind related to both the title of a favorite piece of music, Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” and to the phrase, “Ladies, gentlemen, and variations thereupon”—was more fitting than attempting to find an all-encompassing term of gender classification. If there’s one thing I learned making these pictures, it’s that no such thing really exists.
Variations ran as a portfolio on The New Yorker's website, and was exhibited in a solo show at the Queens Museum, New York City, in early 2015.