Clarissa Sligh: Jake in Transition from Female to Male

  April 3 - May 23, 2002

Clarissa Sligh's work, Jake in Transition from Female to Male, documents the process that her subject, Deb (now Jake), went through to become "the sexual human being that he wanted to become." For the exhibition, the artist chose 51 images of Jake taken over three years as he transitioned from female to male. The exhibition employs straight black and white portraits as well as images with superimposed informational text.

With this series, which explores issues of identity, masculinity and feminimity, the role of the photographer and black feminism, Sligh assumes a new position in her always provocative and socially conscious work. At times, Sligh questioned why she would want to work with someone who, in the end, would represent a male chauvinist ideology that was in direct opposition to her own beliefs. However, she felt that these issues were familiar to her because she had "always lived and worked with people who are racist and/or sexist."

Additionally, Sligh grew up in the Southeast, where the concept of changing identity was familiar to her: while growing, up, she heard stories of slaves escaping to become "free men" and light skinned blacks "passing" as white. In Jake, she saw a kindred spirit who wanted to follow a similar path, to be "free" from homophobic attitudes.

The process was not easy for either subject or photographer. Jake experienced great physical and emotional discomfort due to all the various hormones and surgeries, but by 1999 the two had become friends and found mutual admiration and respect. Sligh realized that she and the camera became an integral part of Jake's transition by creating a space that helped him through the process. These photos not only serve as "visual evidence of the body's transformation," but also they exemplify Clarissa Sligh's abilities as photographer and storyteller. Sligh's sensitive collage style invites us to look more closely at the images, thereby inviting the viewer to think about the underlying class and societal values that led Jake to change his identity.