Photography has, to put it mildly, a complicated relationship with the principle of identity. There was and is a tendency—however illegitimate—to transfer any truthfulness once ascribed to its media technology to the subject, to shift it from the picture to the pictured, so to speak. In other words, when it comes to photography, identity is often synonymous with identification. It bodes for the determination of supposed facts, a gathering of identifying data, difficult-to-elude classifications, a forming of patterns—in short: the establishment of norms. This is that. Because that is what it looks like. And this is this. Because that is what it looks like.
And yet wherever specificity is the aim, wherever something must be absolutely determined as being one thing or another, uncertainty, the unsoundness of that determination is never be far behind. Wherever facts are to be laid down, we find spaces of ambivalence opening up: room for inconclusive, tentative, open-ended questioning. And as with any media technology—especially photography, with all its supposed authenticity, worldliness, and documentary character—it is always a question of how it is used. After all, every narrative has its counter-narrative; every history its counter-history.
C/O Berlin presents queer photography in three, mutually complementary exhibitions coinciding with this year’s Berlin Art Week. Each brings the focus once again to these very questions of identity and its supposed ›determination‹, not to mention use of the medium from very specific perspectives: whether in photographs from the collection of Cindy Sherman (snapshots taken at Casa Susanna, a 1950s and 60s haven for cross-dressers and trans women in Hunter, New York); be it in the groundbreaking archive of historical, personal photos showing androgynous people dressed in suits, cross-dressers, or drag queens—images French filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz has collected over decades, which also spotlight in particular the relationship between gender, identity, and clothing; or the in some cases specially-created images in ›Orlando‹, an exhibition curated by Tilda Swinton. The latter is inspired by Sally Potter’s 1992 film of the same name (a feature in turn based the 1928 novel by Virginia Woolf, starring Swinton as a young aristocrat who miraculously lives for centuries, switching genders along the way.)
All three exhibitions present photographic images (historical and artistic) that highlight the fluidity of gender roles, and confront the supposedly unambiguous with the radical openness of lived diversity. It is with great pleasure that we share the following preview from the Lifshitz’s and Sherman collection as well as from the exhibition curated by Swinton.