Take a look at Label's latest photo album, Wherever the road takes you...: www.facebook.com/pg/labelshow/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2286231241602730 This article is with one of the amazing models from that shoot, Olivia Fisher, and the story that followed. Jo Boon sat down with Olivia to talk about her experiences as a trans woman and what it was like to work with Allie Crewe, the photographer, on this project.
How did you first meet the others involved in the shoot?
Kim and I met a year before the shoot, not long after I had finally come to terms with my gender identity and had begun telling my friends and family. My husband and I had decided to attend a social meeting by a company called Born, a Manchester-based project which offers support and advice for Trans women. I didn’t know any other Trans women personally and it was Kim’s first Born meeting too though she had been out for some time. We got talking and just clicked very quickly - we’ve been friends ever since and I would include her amongst my dearest.
I met Allie through Kim, who had been asked to become involved in the shoot. The shoot required two people and Kim suggested me. My self-esteem hadn’t been the best and she thought it would be good for me, and she was right.
Were you involved in collaborating with the story and poses?
The project was Allie’s - she had already identified the location and we knew she wanted vintage cars in it. However, there was also a need for the shoot to be very natural so I think she gave us space to create a narrative that would allow us to relax and bring that to the shoot. Kim and I created characters that were essentially extensions of ourselves and the road trip element was something which we would likely do together anyway so that came quite easily. The poses were largely from Allie’s direction. She has a fantastic eye for composition and would often place us where she needed us for the light and framing to work, but then she would ask us to subtly move between shots as naturally as possible within her set to keep the staging organic.
Where did the idea come from; what was the initial inspiration?
My understanding of the brief was to examine female friendships with a focus on the importance of the support which these friendships provide us.
That was quite an easy thing for us to reflect on as I feel Kim and I have a friendship which has a very supportive focus. The year in which I have known Kim has been one of great growth but also a great amount of anxiety regarding my future and the changes ahead. Though our journeys differ many of the hurdles are shared and, with the support and council of Kim, much easier to clear.
I also feel that our friendship has provided us a safe space to explore some really complex thoughts and emotions. Whilst we don’t always agree, through the compassionate understanding of our differences we find affirmation within ourselves. These are just some the many provisions of a good friendship between women, and certainly in my friendship with Kim. It was wonderful being able to express and promote this in the shoot.
What were you trying to convey through this photo shoot?
Allie had drawn inspiration from a beautiful series of photos by Mary Ellen Mark of The Damm Family. The Damms were a family from Middle America who had nothing and lived out of a car. Though the family were impoverished there was closeness within their relationships which provided them with more than monetary wealth could. I feel we all wanted this to be reflected in the shoot with the focus being similarly the wealth one can receive from friendship, particularly amongst women.
Personally I feel that everything women have today is down to the support and unity of the women before them who fought for those things together, making our interrelationships tantamount to our successes in society. The limited opportunities for women also mean that competition between us is often great and it can be easy for infighting to hold us back, and the best way to manage this is to accept, support and be responsible for one another. That notion has been something that has been of great benefit to me personally, particularly during my transition.
Did you have your own story in mind as you were shooting?
Personally one of the hardest, if not the hardest, thing about my transition has been preparing for a change in my relationships. I think that is essentially what caused me to ignore my true feelings for as long as I did. Preparing to risk and potentially damage some of those relationships in order for me to live my life honestly was terrifying, and though it cost me some of those relationships, it has also shone a light on the people who stepped up and showed me I could rely on them. And most importantly, it taught me to have faith in those relationships and in myself - that was something which I wished to include in the shoot.
I felt the cars lent themselves beautifully to that idea as well - my journey to affirmation and acceptance only began when I trusted my friends with my truth and now my foot is on the gas and there is no turning back. I won’t be on the road alone and it feels amazing.
Any 'behind the scenes' stories from the shoot?
We had great fun on the shoot but I was really ignorant to how gruelling modelling can be. Allie and our host were amazing, but no amount of encouragement and cups of tea could change the fact it was freezing! I wasn’t wearing much under the coat so in-between sets I had to huddle beneath it for warmth. An unexpected surprise however was that while I was doing this Allie spotted a good shot and took a picture of me shivering miserably. She then entered that picture in a competition to be displayed and used as part of a series to promote men’s mental health by the charity CALM. The photo was selected and will be on display with the rest of the project at the Getty photography gallery in London throughout May and potentially used in some awareness-raising advertising. I could not be any more thrilled that the photo is being used.
CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. This cause is one which is extremely important to me as during a time when I was challenged by my mental health and before I began identifying fully as female, I could have easily been one of those statistics.
There is currently a much-needed and deserved focus on society’s patriarchal practices regarding equality for women; however I also feel that same patriarchy places men under extremely damaging expectations, expectations that make them less willing to discuss or even recognise their vulnerability and leads them to suffer from depression and anxiety without support, subsequently costing them their lives.
As a woman who understands the importance of friendship and the support gained from it then I feel it’s a human responsibility of ours to offer that friendship to men and support them likewise. Equality between genders should also be reflected in equality in the rate of suicide prevention between them.
Here are links to Born and CALM’s websites: born.uk.com & www.thecalmzone.net