Book Review: FEMALE
By Kayla Royster
Female is a collection of black and white monochrome photographs, capturing transgender women in their everyday lives taken by photographer Pilar Vergara. Each photograph is located on its own individual page, alongside the name of the transgender female pictured and their occupation. Throughout this transfixing collection of images, Vergara’s focal point remains the individuality and multiplicity of transgender women as they navigate the important roles they hold within the world at large and within their deeply personal world. This disparate collection of images focuses on informal black and white portraits taken in natural light. This draws attention to the significance of the photobook; the quiet moments that define the women captured in each image.
Vergara’s perspective is visible through her photography’s breadth of subjects in which, we encounter students, activists, hairdressers, government administrators, trade union organizers, and eye surgeons, in addition a range of other women. Located in the middle of the photobook, is an unexpected booklet revealing nine interviews between Vergara and the models. The questions within these interviews range from the earliest memories that each woman has regarding her gender recognition, as well as how they went about expressing their realization to their loved ones. In doing so, we gain more insight of the complexities these women face that have been hinted at previously within the photographs. Within the interview lies questions in relation to how these women experience their gender and how they navigate the world, including: “Do you miss anything about living as a man?”, “Have you felt discrimination?” In addition to, “What gives you the most joy now in life?”
Recently, Transgender people have become a much discussed topic in the news nationally and internationally making the subject of the book very timely. Vergara’s photos portray fifteen transgender women, capturing the women as they are, without the often expected studio light or bold saturated colors. These photographs with the addition of the interviews held within the book draw focus to their humanity and relatability, giving these women an empathic gaze without depicting tropes or stereotypes. Female increases the awareness around the complexities of gender identity and expression.
Pilar Vergara is an award-winning photographer currently based in New York City. Her photography demonstrates her interest in human rights often focusing her work on the misrepresented, and misunderstood, often speaking for those whose voices are not loud enough on their own.