Sébastien Lifshitz & Andrew McMillan

‘It was the hubris of each generation to think anew, to think that their time was special, that all things would come to an end with them.’ – Hugh Howey

This is not a new thought, it has been articulated by other writers in different contexts, but I admire the crispness of Howey’s assertion. And it’s not just in terms of the apocalypse that we tend to think of our own generation as pioneers.

Reading through the hyperbolic, scaremongering, inaccurate and damaging discourse about trans people in the UK today, one might imagine that this is a new phenomenon. These pictures, collected and curated by French screenwriter and director Sébastien Lifshitz, tell us that, of course, this is not true.

The fact that we’ve been taught to think that gender fluidity is a new feature of our age (as opposed to just a newly visible feature) means that Lifshitz’s images can feel anachronistic, lending them a slightly sinister or even uncanny feeling.

Looking through these photographs, pulled out from flea markets and junk shops and the cosmic garage clearance of eBay, is like observing a scientist on the brink of a new discovery for which there isn’t yet a language.

No, that’s not quite right; rather the images are haunting, in the sense that the subjects are inhabiting a space we thought had not yet been invented.

Perhaps by haunting I mean that these images appear to give a glimpse of a ghost-self, a photographic negative of the heart; the parts of the self usually in shadow, brought out into the light. The observer is caught in the gaze of the poser, each seemingly on the edge of some brilliant discovery of self, but without, as yet, an adequate language to stretch beyond the binary.

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