Tonight at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, an exhibition of ambrotype photographs by Robyn Renee Hasty called "Z" opens to the public. The photos depict transgender, cisgender, and a spectrum of genderqueer and gender non-conforming individuals in the nude.
The process Hasty uses to make the photographs was most popular around the time of the American Civil War, and is similar to tintype processes in its use of sensitized wet collodion on a carefully prepared surface. Anyone who has been subjected to an introductory photography theory course will remember Roland Barthes's famous meditation on Alexander Gardner's 1865 wet collodion picture of the devastatingly handsome failed assassin Lewis Payne, which was shot before the kid was taken to the gallows: "The photograph is handsome, as is the boy… But the punctum is: he is going to die."
In recent times, this old-timey process has been applied to everything from surf culture to Sally Mann's husband with varying degrees of logic. No matter the subject, collodion photographs are always beautiful. But they are aesthetically rooted in the past, and sometimes it can be more an effect than an essential part of the concept of a body of work. This is not the case with "Z." Instead, the anachronistic aesthetic of Hasty's work points to a fluid conception of time, in essence positing that a full spectrum of gender expressions has always existed, though it is only now photographable. In Barthes' words, "This will be and this has been."
"Z" (curated by Walker Waugh) will remain on view at Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation in Red Hook, Brooklyn through July 12, 2015. It opens tonight with a reception from 6 to 9 PM.
See more artwork by Robyn Renee Hasty on her website.