chloe aftel documents trans people in their most intimate moments
The photographer's new book 'Outside & in Between' includes at home portraits of Rain Dove, Jacob Tobia, and Sasha Fleischman.
Rain Dove. Photography Chloe Aftel
Over the past six years, Los Angeles-based photographer Chloe Aftel has been documenting the transgender community in their most intimate moments. From trailer parks in Ohio, to the suburbs of Atlanta, and tiny bedrooms in New York, she has shot over 30 trans people for her new book Outside & In Between.
The book features portraits of well-known trans activists, like London-based model Rain Dove, Sissy book author Jacob Tobia, and Sasha Fleischman, the teenager who was set on fire while riding a bus in Oakland. They’re all shot in their homes, or in a place they consider to be ‘home’ in an attempt to draw attention to the ongoing human rights crisis around the trans community.
“I wish very much that people could simply be themselves without the government, religion, or other special interest groups feeling they have a right to insert themselves,” said Aftel, who is donating a portion of book sales to the The Trevor Project, an organization which helps LGBTQ youth. Aftel took some time out to speak to us about community, bravery and the battle to overcome transphobia.
This all started when you photographed your friend Edie, how did it organically evolve?
When I first met Edie (she identifies as a trans woman now), she just seemed very comfortable being genderqueer and occupying that place without any worry or hesitation. I just wanted to shoot her, to try and figure out what it meant, visually, to present and view oneself as outside the binary. Edie seemed out of the ordinary and yet so natural and true, sod I wanted to find other people doing the same thing, in their own way.
Why did you want to shoot the portraits in places the subjects consider home?
At the beginning, I was a bit nervous about shooting people in public places. I wanted to make sure we were in a place that was safe and comfortable. Shooting them at home would allow me to get a deeper sense of their vulnerability and their personality.
What was the process of photographing each person?
Some subjects were ready to go immediately and we would shoot first and talk later, but usually I like to talk to them first and get a sense of them, also allowing them to get a sense of me, as I really want them to be comfortable. In the age of selfies and constant social media content, it sometimes takes a while to get something with a bit more nuance and emotion.
What did you learn about the trans community in shooting this series?
The reason this community mattered so much to me is simply because I think they are ahead of the curve, in many ways. I’ve also been working on this project for such a long time, as well as shooting people for editorials who are in the trans community. I think this community, their needs and victories, are constantly evolving. The way that people understand themselves and the freedom with which they feel able to be themselves seems to be getting larger, but there’s also a lot of backward steps being taken by the government which is deeply distressing and discouraging.
How has transphobia and violence against trans people affected the people you photographed?
Some people, usually living in more urban areas, were easier to photograph in public places and also had a lot less hesitancy about being in the project. There were a couple very brave people who live in more rural areas where I had to be careful about which pictures of them I included and how clear it was where we shot. Obviously, this is an endemic problem that persists and is both horrifying and deeply upsetting.
What do you mean?
I can’t understand why anyone should care how someone else chooses to understand themselves, especially when they are being honest, direct and fearless about who they are. I don’t think most people live in such an audacious and courageous way, most people just try to conform; being yourself should be rewarded, not punished.
What did you learn about inclusivity and activism in the trans community?
I loved talking with Jacob Tobia because their attitude is not only positive but also very forgiving towards people who are making their best efforts to understand and do right by this community. It was striking how they felt utterly complete and comfortable really being themselves, even if they had to pay a heavy price for it. There is something so liberating in being able to be yourself. As well, the genderqueer community is so varied and deeply personal, it seems to be a group that is very much live and let live, figure out who you are and the community supports you.