Anna Sampson’s photographs of her friends dressed in drag demonstrate that gender is a performance
“Think how dull the human race would be if we all thought and behaved in the same way.” Photographer Anna Sampson is discussing the broad spectrum of gender that she has been exploring in a soon-to-be-exhibited series, Gender Trouble.
Having first developed an interest in erotic photography during her studies at Chelsea Fine Arts, Sampson decided to employ her then-boyfriend as her model. Already fascinated by the world of drag – citing films such as Paris Is Burning and John Water’s Female Trouble – Sampson dressed him up in her clothes “for fun”, testing out her camera skills in the intimate setting of her home, becoming more-and-more fascinated by the gender-blurring potentials that photography allowed.
Inspired by the works of Nan Goldin and Boris Mikhailov, Sampson soon expanded her role-play photoshoots, enlisting friends and other acquaintances to pose in drag. The result was a vast collection of performance images which became Gender Trouble – a title borrowed from the 1990 text written by seminal feminist and philosopher, Judith Butler, who Sampson also sites as a key influence.
Agreeing with Butler's theory that feminism requires equality, the photographer subverts the heterosexual male gaze in her photographs, capturing male subjects in women’s lingerie. She redefines erotic photography, resisting the objectification of the female figure for male gratification. By doing so, Sampson presents gender as a spectrum, which her subjects traverse across by casting off items of clothing or by simply changing their pose.
“I see gender identity as a performance at times but I’m not sure about absolutes,” she explains. “I think of gender as fluid, even amongst more ‘conventional’ people, but I do think society and attitudes are a significant factor in the performative aspect of gender and that so many of our gendered tropes are performed.”
Gender Trouble opens tonight and runs until 9 July 2017 at Dalston’s Doomed Gallery