Chloe Aftel Issues a Challenge with 'GenderQueer'
For more than four years photographer Chloe Aftel has engaged in a photo series exploring the GenderQueer community. The project, that shares the name of the movement, offers representation of individuals from a variety experiences within the community. Whether it’s Sasha Fleischman, an agender victim of a violent hate crime, or any number of non-binary or gender non-conforming figures, she's working on representing a broad selection of these individuals, always challenging herself to give a better, truer representation. Since Chloe embarked on the project there has been a huge influx of outside interest, not least of which because of the attack on Fleischman, but also because these issues are being pulled more into the forefront of cultural conversation. “I do think that seeing the rapidity of which certain strides were made for the GenderQueer community, as well as the Trans community. That part is really nice,” says Chloe. “I’m apprehensive and afraid of what is coming, as I feel our current political situation is very hostile towards non-heteronormative anything. But even my dad knew a term [for GenderQueer] even if it wasn’t correct. That is a huge thing because my dad is not in touch at all. There’s an awareness.” That awareness has grown enough that over the years as Chloe has worked on GenderQueer, she’s earned awards and recognition from American Photo, Critical Mass, and more.
The process of creating the project has been fulfilling on its own, but as a photographer Chloe is chasing the result. It’s about representation and contact. She’s shaping images that we can view and interact with ourselves. “I abstain from saying what the intent of the work of anything that I do is because I don’t want it to be didactic, but the thing that I struggle so hard to obtain in these images is that sense of intimacy, that you are able to connect with the person,” explains Chloe. “You can see the veiwers struggle a little bit inside themselves to reconcile that... It just cracks the door open a little bit and that’s the interaction with this series that I find so exciting and rewarding. I think it sort of forces people to reconsider.”
Art is about far more than just expression, it’s about communication. Good art challenges the viewer and makes us think about things differently. It exposes us to experiences and emotions we don’t normally get exposed to in our every day lives, and that can reshape the way we see issues and the people around us. “I think that this allows people to play with the idea that there’s perhaps more to attraction, more to sexuality, more to love, more to self-expression, more to all those facets of being a human being than we have been taught for a very long time,” says Chloe. The pictures might make you uncomfortable, but that’s okay. In fact, that’s a plus.
In total, Chloe’s GenderQueer project is less about being GenderQueer and more about being a human being. Of course each of her subjects are at least in one way attached to the idea of GenderQueer, whether it's their own identity or an identity that touches the umbrella. And even though the project is still in process as she works to expand representation and create a fuller picture of this community, it’s really about introducing her subjects to the world so that her audience can have an experience which each of the subjects through the photographs. She's setting up human connections. “There’s a lot of different ways to understand your sexuality and your humanity and that’s the thing that I hope this series allows people to delve a little bit deeper into,” says Chloe. “There’s a very private thing about reading and about looking. And when you look and when you engage with something there’s a degree to which that can be just a tremendously isolated and personal experience… Maybe they wouldn’t admit it to their friends, maybe they wouldn’t in any way actually explore it in their lives but I do think it cracks that artificial shell where people are so bigoted. It allows a little something else to seep in with the hope being that we are all people.”