Book Review: Revealing Selves - Transgender Portraits from Argentina by Kike Arnal
By Aniza Jahangir
A mother sits on her bed with her three children. There is no father, though her children once called her “dad”. Surrounded by friends, they look at pictures of their mother from before. Before she was left without a home; before she turned to sex work; before her wife died of AIDS; before she worked at a library; before she went back to school; before she was “she” and her government allowed her to be erased. This is just one of Kike Arnal’s photographs capturing the reality of trans lives.
Arnal captures moments of uniquely relatable intimacy in Revealing Selves: Transgender Portraits from Argentina, confronting viewers with realities which breach thresholds of discomfort. With a focus on transgender subjects, Arnal pictures the realities of life that we are most uncomfortable with. He openly depicts daily minutia to forge an undetachable connection between his subjects and the viewer. In this, he highlights the tyranny of Argentinian politics on the transgender community.
The photographs in Arnal’s book are in black and white. This choice adds an element of abstraction, allowing for the images to have even greater impact. In the expression that black and white photography provides, it becomes clear these images are not about beauty in aesthetic, they are about politics and harsh realities.
An added layer of intimacy is expressed through Arnal’s medium and the intermixing of photography with the written word. He captures a trans woman at her mother’s grave with her children; gentle embraces between trans people and their lovers; young trans sex workers waiting for customers on the street; a trans man reveals his top-surgery scars, alongside tattoos and piercings that document his coming to be “him”; a portrait of someone holding a photograph of someone they once were. Arnal stands witness to these moments, and is given the trust by his subjects to capture and give prominence to them. Arnal does not allow the viewer to speculate about the lives of the trans community, rather, he interweaves narrative forms, like biographies and quotations, with photography in order to allow members of the community to tell the viewer who they are.
Arnal’s photographs are more than passing glances - they are direct engagements with politics, with the viewer, and with each and every individual in larger spheres of oppression and revolution. Arnal intimately captures his subjects, and allows them to own their hardships, loves and passions before anyone else, even him, in their narratives.
Arnal’s photographs are images of empowerment and the pursuit of freedom.