British photographer Bex Day's Hen photo series focuses on the older generation of the UK's trans community. If you're wondering what the name is about: "Hen", the Swedish genderneutral personal pronoun – equivalent to "they" in English – is an umbrella term for those who identify as transgender and non-binary.
Since starting the project in 2015, Bex has photographed 40 transgender people who are all over the age of 40. The portraits are shot in her subjects' homes, or with them surrounded by lush greenery – which, for Day, symbolises unity. "We are all one; we are like nature in the respect that we will continue to grow and flourish," she says.
I caught up with Bex over email on the opening day of her new exhibition to talk about what the inspiration behind the project was, and how working on the series has been a learning curve for her.
VICE: Hi, Bex. What made you want to focus solely on older subjects with this project?
Bex Day: I noticed there was a lack of older transgender individuals in the media, and, as an ally, I wanted to give them the space to share their experiences, and also hopefully encourage more intergenerational talking points. A large amount of individuals in Hen said they rarely interact with younger transgender individuals, and I thought it was a shame because it could encourage learning on both parts.
Was everyone shot in or around their homes?
I tried to shoot people in their homes as much as possible – however, sometimes access wasn't possible due to their family or partners not knowing about them being transgender. If homes weren't possible we'd go to their meaningful place. It would depend on where they lived and whether they were up for driving around. Sometimes we went on mini road trips. Me and Julie rode around Essex in her car. Annabelle kindly let me stay with her in Wales for a few days, so we had the luxury of shooting her in various locations in Carmarthen and in her house. Irene’s living room was so beautiful, I had to photograph her there.
What have you taken away from shooting this project?
The entirety of the project was a huge learning curve and allowed me to progress in terms of my understanding towards the transgender community and the difficulties they faced and continue to face. It taught me to value where we're at in the world – we're so fortunate that we have access to such a wide range of mental health facilities and how we are able to use the internet to enhance our understanding of certain topics. I feel we're far freer to understand our identities and truly express this nowadays; there are safer spaces for people to communicate their issues, which sadly wasn’t the case for a lot of the people I photographed when they were growing up.
There was definitely not enough gender support or open conversations about identity or mental health in most of their childhoods. It’s great that children are learning about being transgender in schools, too, because it discourages the sense of alienation that so many people I photographed mentioned they felt growing up.
Overall, the generosity of each person involved really resonated with me. Everyone has been so kind and munificent because they truly want to make a difference with this project as well. Without their involvement and their positivity it wouldn't have been such a strong project. I really can’t thank everyone enough for all the time and effort they’ve put into Hen.
What do you want people to see when they look at these photographs?
I wanted to create imagery that is both genuine to the individual and thought-provoking. I wasn't keen to brush over the fact that each person has had a difficult time. I wanted to merge this with a more positive message that things can change. I wanted the images to express this in a manner that isn’t negative but challenges understanding and hopefully facilitates a deeper understanding of this concept. Life can be shit sometimes, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the way in which it can make you grow. By taking people outside of their homes and contrasting some images of people at home, it creates this sense of stepping out of your comfort zone paired with intimacy.
I wanted the lasting impression to allow individuals to detach from judgment and recognise that we are all equal.
Hen runs until the 7th of April at Herrick Gallery, London. Alongside the exhibition, Bex has created a film to accompany Hen and will be hosting workshops throughout the exhibition week (April 1 - April 7) with Stonewall Housing (70 percent of print sales will go to them.) There will also be a workshop to tackle intergenerational issues with Press For Change One.