Laurence Philomene is reframing how we represent femininity

The Coven Collective founder and Montreal photographer aims to destabilise art world power structures

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Fascinated by the power balance and intersection between the feminine and masculine, photographer and Coven Collective founder Laurence Philomene found herself wanting to explore the often unrepresented androgynous femme identity. So often androgynous imagery featuring sharp suits, small breasts and skinny white bodies constitutes an image of masculinity – reinforcing the notion of masculinity as neutral, while images depicting femininity are still considered excessive, steeped in gendered codes and colours.

Interested in questioning why femme characteristics have often been excluded from the gender conversation altogether, Philomene's latest photo book Dreamboats features masculine presenting people dressed in pink, doused in glitter and addresses the power imbalance within discussions surrounding gender and identity.

“I like to turn masculinity into an object the same way femininity has been objectified for so long” – Laurence Philomene

“I’d been working a lot around the idea of the muse – who’s making work about who, etc. And exploring the idea of the queer gaze in a de-sexualised manner: my point of view as a queer woman taking photos of ‘masculine’ bodies, and trying to challenge power balances in that way.” Philomene continues, “ I also find myself talking about ‘using’ these masculine subjects, which is kind of pushing it to the extreme, at times I like to turn masculinity into an object the same way femininity has been objectified for so long.”

Philomene is not interested in exploring what defines male or female identities, instead wishing to explore the power and semantics placed on our bodies by societal stereotypes. “I try to stay away from defining manhood or womanhood as universal experiences. I want to make work that takes trans bodies into accounts as well,” she explains. The result is a clever extension of the female, queer gaze moved outside of the confines and depictions of girlhood that images under this guise are usually restricted to. Purposefully saturating her work with feminine elements that run not just throughout this series but her entire back catalogue, Philomene aims to remove masculinity from its neutral context and normalise femme aesthetics through her enduring commitment to them.

“Femininity and masculinity are both social constructs that are contingent on time & place so I don’t think I can ever fully define them. But to me I associate femininity with vulnerability, and softness, and those are elements I value and want to uphold.” Philomene continues, “I don’t think there is something inherently radical about boys in dresses, my aim in general is more to destabilise the power structures at play in the art world that present the masculine point of view as a neutral one.”

Dreamboats launches 14-15 May, 2016, at Toronto Comic Arts Festival – more info here

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