Reflection On A Question On Gender And Identity – Exercise 3.10

The brief for exercise 3.10 can be found at the bottom of the page.

Gender and identity are important to me, and are significant around the world at the moment. People are being able to explore and express their identity, and statues, laws and policies are being changed to recognise that gender is not a male female polarisation. we all know that our chromosones and genitalia define whether we are legally a man or woman, but gender is not as simple as this.

What the bloody hell is gender I aks myself? Truth is I realy do not know. We are socialised into behaving in certain ways according to whether we are a man or woman/boy or girl. But if we are socialised into this behaviour then surely we cannot say that this is a true reflection on gender. Socialisation means that gender roles can be different depending upon culture, class, ethnicity and religion. Gender roles have also changed over the centuries. So is gender defined by what we wear and the unequal division of unpaid labour within the home, then to me, this is not gender, it’s culture. There is far more that I could explore here, becaue it’s a theme that matters to me, but I’ll leave that for another day.

When I read the brief for this exercise I knew that I would not be able to complete it. My anxiety is high at the moment, so I could not make a formal portrait of another person. But I did not want to avoid the exercise. After assignment two my tutor and I discussed how I could develop a body of work which explores identity, where I use masks and props with a variety of people, in a manner that they feel represents an aspect of their personality. I figured that I could do this with self-portrait for this exercise.

This has been one of the most fun photo shoots that I have made. It’s not perfect and there are some points of learning for me. This series will need to be re-worked in order to be added added to the Identity body of work (which will not be about gender per se).

The shoots took place over two weekends, and at slightly different times and lighting conditions, which is where the issues lay for me. The first weekend I shot the ‘female’ clothing with the male mask, and the following weekend the ‘male’ clothing and the ‘female’ mask. The props include the books on the sofa, which and in my hands (which are photography related), the photos above me in the seated photos, the book case, the crystals, two masks, different outfits of clothing.

In the diptychs that I have presented as a seperate post (see here) I have tried to match composition and tonal range, and in Lightroom have set the white balance the same through out the eight photos. Because I shot over two weekends then thematching composition is ok, but will be better with a re-work of the series. I have tried to demonstrate  what may be defined as male body language where I am wearing the make clothing, and female poses in the female outfits. The clothing, body language and masks are a relay between the photos and the title ‘A question on gender and identity’. I felt that the title gives the viewer space for contemplation, without requiring further introductory text. People can make of it as they will.

In order for a successful re-work I need to

  • Invest in some lighting equipment
  • Have a technician to take the photos
  • Buy a new mask for when I am wearing the male clothing
  • Use a cream foundation as a base and then the powder on top
  • Re-touch lipstick frequently and use a slighlty brighter colour
  • Take all of the seated shots at the same time with all sets of clothing
  • Take all of the standing shots at the same time with all sets of clothing
  • More male clothing outfits

I made several hundred photos for this shoot so evaluation and selection has not been easy at all. It involved going through a process of adding picks and labels in Lightroom and going through the “cut” process in which i delete photos, on five occasions, and finally I printed contacts in black and white so that I could make the final selection by matching tonal range and composition, without the element of colour to disteract me.


Leaving out photos that I like, but that did not fit in with the series was hard. There were thre that I particularly liked, but as I am developing as a photographer I am learning to avoid attatchment and personal involvement where I can, so that I can have a more objective approach. This is very much a learning process and work in progress for me. The following are tow of those favourites.


Over all I am pleased with the diptychs that I have produced. They refelct aspects of my personality, the staging and composition are ok, but with room for improvement, and the masks and props work well.

The Final Four DiptychsOn-Gender-and-Identity-1




Brief:- How would you make a formal portrait of someone, that tells the viewer about that persons charachter, life and interests but remains subtle and restrained? Making a ‘formal’ portrait is a ‘real world’ scenario for most photographer. It’s generally a full-length portrait of a person whowing their whole figure deliberately posed to be the main subject of the composition. It wont include exessive display of emotion or activity. A formal portrait demands great care over the composition and the lighting. You will need to make many exposures to capture a meaningful portrait from your subject. Wait for your subject to relax. Be alert to their nuances of facial expression and gesture and try to find a ‘real’ face, not a self-conscious or smiling or ‘this is how I want ro be seen’ sort of face. By juxtaposing significant elements (props, setting, clothes) in the frame, you’re setting up a kind of ‘dialogue’ between them, in which a resonance should occur, but try to remain subtle. Before you start, research the photographs of Rineke Djkstra and look at Thomas Struth’s portraits on the Tate website:

28 Replies to “Reflection On A Question On Gender And Identity – Exercise 3.10”

  1. Great post and very cleverly done Richard. When I first saw the pictures I wasn’t quite sure I got it and it took a couple of looks for it to fully sink in, and now – YES – very well done.
    You were concerned about tones and yes there are some very slight differences in white balance etc but quite minor. A cheap and easy solution might be to buy a white balance card and use it for each shoot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really thought-provoking. At this stage I’m struck by how much gender is immaterial in the sense that we all go about our daily lives in similar ways – reading being one example as in your images here. I’ve long been struck by the fact that it’s okay for ‘females’ to wear trousers and yet not always okay for ‘males’ to wear skirts – at least in the Britain – but then there’s Scotland and kilts and all the other countries. It’s such a complex issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that gender is immaterial in so many ways. It’s perhaps more important on a level of misogyny, inequality and discrimination than it is on the level of what people do. I observe that younger people, on the whole, are incredibly open and accepting with regard to individual personalization of gender.


  3. I saw another shoot you did and both of them are interesting in a way, I will be honest as I usually am and the shoot is “Out There” which is OK with me having been around a lot of people with gender curiosity or pain caused by that. I like this from a point of a curiosity because you presented a shoot before. Forgive my English I hope you understood me some.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Patrizia. I do understand. I use photography to explore themes in a manner that can be “in your face”. I believe that it had an impact because I’m really exploring myself, rather than presenting an situation that has no meaning to me. Because I have a personal connection with the photos I make I explore angles that people may not be aware of, or don’t want to know about.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Jonathan,

        Thank you for replying and I did understand that this was very personal as well and wish you a conclusion of your identity soon and pray is the one God Created. No offence or judgment on you. I love you in Christ and Just telling you my take. I pray now for a conclusion you can put in Photography whichever you find. I ill never judge, God Bless you in your search.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. An excellent summary Richard . I’ve been pondering on gender since viewed your post this morning & agree with Catherine’s comments . In the 70’s I had very short cropped hair ( a barber used to cut it ) & never worn dresses , whilst hubby had hair halfway down his back !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bravo Richard! Creative and thought provoking!

    I especially like the shots on the sofa as these really bring out that gender identity involves so many aspects of an individual’s appearance, mannerisms, character; it’s so much more than the clothing we choose to wear.

    How could humans possibly be pigeonholed into just two types?

    I agree with your observations on lighting etc. I look with quite a degree of envy at the resources deployed by the likes of Crewdson, and understand the constraints you were working with. One idea that comes to mind is to use plain white face Phantom Of The Opera style masks, essentially using only hair/beard/wig to challenge those preconceptions?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really appreciate your thoughtful feedback Mike, thankyou. And I agree about the sofa shots, there is more character and personality coming through in those.

      As for the masks, I will shop around and try a few others out, essentially though one needs to appear more feminine, so that it combines with the wig, shaved facial hair, make up – wearing the ‘male’ clothing. And the other mask needs to be more masculine to go with the short hair, beard and ‘female’ clothing. That way the is a visual disonance within each photo as well as another disonance between both photos in each diptych.

      I need a different wig as well.

      And yes, to have Crewdson resources and production team would be fab, even a hair and make up artist would do me.


    1. Thanks Tom, and I agree, but there is a symbolism between the masks, and the gender roles we play. Roles are nothing more than masks we hide behind so that we don’t have to question our deeper self and identity


  6. A very thought provoking series of diptychs, and as someone else mentioned, so timely. Thanks for this exploration. I wish I could see bigger versions of the photos so I could study the details more closely. You’re so creative! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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