In the introduction to his recent book, Genderqueer and Other Gender Identities, L.A. based photographer David Naz says, “Everyone needs an identity. It helps define us.” In his recent show at Chartreuse, aptly named Identity, Naz uses photographic portraiture as a means to explore individual expression. The subjects live within the queer community, and the show is clearly an exploration of the murky landscape of self and gender identities. Yet more than that, Identity feels like a question of self-definition in an age of increasing sameness, in a political moment where homosexuality and homogenization live too closely together for comfort.
In 1973, Larua Mulvey penned a famous critique of “gaze,” showing how cinematography as an art form vacillated between using bodies (specifically female bodies) in either voyeuristic or fetishistic ways. For some, seeing bodies whose gender identity is neither or perhaps both sexes may produce a feeling of separateness, of “otherness” in which we look – but do not see. Arguably, this is one of the agendas of a show that almost exclusively features genderqueer individuals. If identity defines us, who then, do we think we are?
Naz counters this othering with a sensitive touch, using a stark grey backdrop as a means to foreground each individual personality. Many of the portraits are face-forward renditions of the subject gazing directly into the camera, with a feeling of being engaged in the looking. Individuals are rendered faithfully, some exuding a sense of power and firmness, and some with a vulnerability that is almost painful to witness.
The portraits are taken deliberately, carefully. There are no impromptu shots, candid moments of acting “natural.” The subjects know they are being witnessed, again- often facing the shot and staring directly into the lens. The tight focus lends itself to participation, to a feeling of being engaged in the image as person, as personality.
In 1981, influenced by the Mulvey article, Barbara Kruger created a famous image with the line: “Your gaze is hitting the side of my face.” In the Kruger image, the recognizably female marble statue is turned away from the gaze, and the sense of looking as violence is starkly exposed. In a society in which otherness is vilified, and gender identity has become a bathroom battleground, Naz’s series feels a place of rest. In these images, Naz captures an individual marked not by external identifications, but renders each with a masterful touch, giving us a window into the subject’s deliberate (and evolving) identity.