Wellesley Students Celebrate Campus Trans Community with Photo Exhibition

Two figures look at a photo exhibit
March 11, 2019

On March 11, the Trans Day of Visibility Campaign will host an opening reception at 6 pm in the Jewett Hallway Gallery to highlight the “Celebrating Trans Lives” photo exhibition, on display until March 14. The evening’s festivities honor the contributions and lives of trans and nonbinary activists and creatives in the Wellesley community, and will feature poet Ally Ang ’17. Pronoun pins will continue to be available for attendees at this event as well as across campus.

The Trans Day of Visibility Campaign aims to raise awareness of the many gender identities that exist within the Wellesley community. Other events include a workshop on creating inclusive environments for trans and nonbinary students March 12, a drag show panel March 13 and “crafts and chill” for trans and nonbinary students March 15. 

Below, Kyiah Ashton ’19, co-chair of the Trans Day of Visibility Campaign, and lead photographer Maddy Allan-Rahill ’20 discuss their vision for creating the photo exhibition.

Q: How did you go about creating and developing this exhibition?

Ashton and Rhodd-Lee: We created this exhibit by prioritizing the unique and engaging personalities of the people we photographed. The aesthetic was driven by their choices and our interpretations of their characters. The subjects chose their color schemes, and we gave them time and space to relax into themselves and express their identities. Without the boundaries of a specific aesthetic, we had the freedom to find authenticity.

Q: What are your strategies for developing a connection with your subjects? What are you looking for as you are shooting the photos?

A: When each person came into the studio, we first introduced ourselves and gave them the chance to pick music that they love. Then we asked them about what they felt expressed themselves and played around with the lights while we were getting to know one another. It was important to us to hear about what everyone is passionate about and what brings them joy or helps them feel powerful. We took a huge range of photos so as to alleviate pressure from any one image, and this gave people time to get comfortable and try different stances or move around as much as they liked. We tried to give affirmation and get people to laugh, because the more relaxed everyone was, the more we were able to catch them in the act of what they normally do—expressions that close friends might recognize or poses that seem in character. We had a lot of fun talking to people and getting to know them in our short time together.

Q: How did you go about selecting the work for this exhibit?

A: We tried to pick the images that were unique and let the personality of our subjects shine through. Where possible, we asked the subject their opinion, and we also looked at the exhibit as a whole to try to ensure a diverse and dynamic collection of images. In the end we felt that this collection best illustrates the energy that we felt with each subject and demonstrates the life that these people bring to campus and to the world.

Q: What do you hope people take away from your photography and this exhibit in particular? 

A: The main goals of the exhibit are to celebrate the lives and contributions of trans and nonbinary people and to showcase the many ways that gender identities can be expressed. We hope that people can see the exhibit and experience the joy, power, and vulnerability of these students. Trans and nonbinary people contribute so much to the Wellesley community and deserve a place where that is recognized and where they can feel seen and celebrated by friends, peers, and the Wellesley population. We want this space to be a tribute to them, and we also hope that the exhibit gives the students involved something to be proud of since they had so much agency in the process.