JJ Levine : Queer Portraits | Portraits Queers

past exhibition

JJ Levine

Queer Portraits | Portraits Queers

JJ Levine’s portraits celebrate people who self-identify as queer

Curated by Christine Redfern - Ellephant Gallery

April 22nd 2022 – July 2nd 2022 | 11:00 am – 5:45 pm Canada House, Trafalgar Square, SW1Y 5BJ

The Exhibition

Over the past sixteen years, photographer JJ Levine has created studio portraits across three major series: Queer Portraits, Alone Time, and Switch. In Queer Portraits, Levine contributes to a visual culture of identity-based image making by photographing the people close to him. In Queer Portraits and Alone Time, he creates a studio within each home environment, and intentionally places every object that appears within the frame. These settings are intended to raise questions regarding private space as a realm for the development of community and the expression of genders and sexualities that are often marginalized within the public sphere.

Alone Time and Switch employ elements of drag and gender transformation. These two series are intended to confuse and amuse the viewer and urge the audience to problematize preconceived notions of binary gender and heteronormativity. In Alone Time, upon closer examination, the “couples” prove to be composed of a single model appearing as both the male and female characters. Similarly, Switch initially appears to be a series featuring four models. Yet in reality, it is the same couple switching their gender presentations in the two sides of the diptych.

Across all three projects, JJ Levine hopes to provoke thought, while maintaining a commitment to formal photographic techniques. The underlying goal of his work is to celebrate the resistance and resilience in his queer community of friends, through the confrontational gaze of his subjects and a collective cultural aesthetic.

Curated by Christine Redfern, Director of ELLEPHANT

JJ Levine’s portraits celebrate people who self-identify as queer. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘queer’ goes back to the 17th century and was originally used to describe someone who was “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric, in appearance or character.” The word was then reclaimed in the 1990s, first in English and then in French, by the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, plus other gender and sexual minorities like non-binary, two-spirit, intersex and asexual) community as a self-affirming term for those whose sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to societal norms.

In his photographs, JJ Levine, a trans man himself, portrays his friends in his queer community as members of an extended chosen family.

This exhibition is a retrospective of Levine’s portraiture work, which began in 2006. The largest in the three series, Queer Portraits, uses classic studio techniques to create settings that aim to define the personal identity of the subjects. In the series Alone Time and Switch, the artist depicts couples in which a single individual plays both male and female roles. In Alone Time, this involves combining multiple film photographs into a seamless composite image.

JJ Levine’s portraits are grounded in deep feelings of friendship and pride, along with a radical opposition to sexual and gender normativity. Like the term queer, Levine’s photographs engage in a broad protest against all forms of oppression related to the body. By playing with received ideas about gender, the work challenges the patriarchal gaze along with mainstream notions of domesticity and the nuclear family.

Hélène Samson, Curator Photography, McCord Museum, Montréal

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