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Sasakiavins, Spring (2023)
Sasakiavins, Spring (2023)Photography Sasakiavins

Dreamy portraits of London’s non-binary youth

Spring, the new photo book from artist duo Sasakiavins, offers a nuanced depiction of non-binary youth culture in London

In a world seemingly obsessed with labels, the new photo book Spring attempts to evade them. The photobook, by artistic duo Sasakiavins, is an exploration of what it means to eschew categorisation in a society that thrives upon it. Created over the course of a year, it depicts 20 non-binary young people living in London, presenting their portraits without comment or context. “We were in search of a new way of thinking,” Sasakiavins says, “focusing our attention on subjects that transcend outdated ideas.” 

Even in their methods, they departed from what’s expected in a portrait sitting. “We worked with medium format film to add authenticity to the images, but decided to distance our approach from traditional norms by emphasising spontaneity.” Instead of dictating poses or outfits, they invited subjects to dress in their favourite outfits, and encouraged them to work on their own creative pursuits such as dance and painting, during the sessions. “We worked with a flow that allowed the portraits to take shape through our interactions with each person,” Sasakiavins explains. “We felt it was important to let the situations naturally unfold. To us, portrait sessions are a way of communication. So, instead of leading, it was more like a dialogue – reacting to how we felt they conveyed themselves. We thought it was essential [for the sitters] in authentically presenting themselves.” 

The result is a collection of photographs as extraordinarily varied as the sitters themselves. Subjects are adorned in pearls and piercings, showing off tattoos and top surgery scars. They defiantly meet the gaze of the camera, or gaze into the distance; they are shot from above in black and white, or rendered in glorious colour to better show the scarlet red or electric blue of their hair. Each one is presented without description – a deliberate choice by the artists, who wanted readers to experience each image without additional context. Everything you need to know about the subject, they say, is right there in their portrait. 

The shoots became a space for exploration and growth – both for the sitters and the artists. “Each session we had was a really profound and personal experience for us but our shoot with Naissa Essart-Nielsen was really memorable,” Sasakiavins says. “We had previously photographed Naissa in 2021, before we began the series for this project and their impact was very influential in our decisions for it. The shoot for the series was a year later, and was the first time we had seen them post their top surgery. It was really beautiful to witness the transformation in Naissa’s self-assurance. Even in that short time, we could see their journey, and it reminded us of the fluid nature of identity.” 

It’s thoughtful representation in a world that so often feels hostile to trans and non-binary people – especially trans and non-binary youth, who are frequently dismissed as being swayed by trends or led astray by some malevolent (and of course, non-existent) ‘trans agenda’. “While there is so much importance in the work of trans and non-binary people representing their own community, we hope that there is also some significance in the fact that we are coming from a different angle,” Sasakiavins explains. “Photography can have a unique way of saying things indirectly and gently and we hope it’s able to communicate through another sense.” 

As time passes, they say, subjects have continued to explore their gender expression, with some undergoing medical transition procedures or taking legal steps such as name changes. Identity, Spring posits, is simply not a box to be ticked on a form or a static state of being. For many people, it is a vast, undefinable journey: a radical act of coming into bloom in a world that prefers us to remain evergreen. 

Spring by Sasakiavins is available to order here.

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