Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Photographing Beyond Magenta

After four years in the making, I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that my new book, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out has just been published. I’ve been waiting for this month with anxious anticipation. Now that it's here I’m walking on air, soaking in all the love, care, and respect sent out to the six teens that participated in the book.

Usually my YA books have black and white photographs peppered throughout the text. But this time they are mostly in color and are a finely integrated part of each chapter.

Each teenager in the book is individual and distinct. They know who they are and what they need. They certainly know who they are not. My role was to represent these awesome kids through words and photographs.

One person in the book preferred not to have photographs at all, and another person’s mother did not want her son’s face shown. That left four chapters that needed separate photo essays.

The first teen I met was Jessy, who had just begun taking hormone therapy. I thought, and he agreed, that it would be interesting to photograph him every two weeks as his transition progressed. This is the first photo, taken with my cell phone because it never occurred to me that our first meeting would include a photo shoot. I referred to Jessy’s photo essay as  “Transition.” They are very casual and mostly shot in natural light.

This is from the final set of photographs of Jessy's transition at the time I turned in the book. In my view - and the art director’s - camera and lighting are somewhat better than the one with my iPhone.

The second person I interviewed was Christina. Christina loves to shop and is very, very good at it. I trailed along, feeling quite dumpy, as she methodically, elegantly went through every rack. We did two shoots, one when she was a strawberry blond and another when she was a brunette. This essay is called “Shopping Spree.”

Cameron, the third photo essay in the book, did a great job explaining gender fluidity. We decided that it would be best to “show AND tell.” I set up my studio with a crumpled white cloth background and large strobes that I usually use when photographing dancers. Cameron carried bags of clothing to my sixth floor walk-up studio. We did two sets of studio photography. This is “Variables.”

Nat, the fourth essay, is a fine artist and a wonderful violinist. We wanted to do something that married intellect and art. And that to me is Black and White photography. I suggested that I photograph them [Nat’s pronoun of choice] in the tradition of André Kertész, 1894 -1985, a photographer whom I greatly admire. Kertész focused on patterns, angles and space. Nat and I went up on the High Line early in the mornings when all the tourists were asleep in their beds. We did our interpretation of a Kertész photo essay. It became “The Long Road with Musical Interludes.”

The last chapter is devoted to Luke, [not his real name] a marvelous poet and actor. Luke’s mother did not want her son’s real name or face revealed in the book. When Luke is onstage he’s a whirlybird.  So I slowed down the camera and let his movement compliment his personality. Although his is not a true photo essay, the images are not like the other chapters.

This structure is not explicitly described in Beyond Magenta. But it's layers like these that add (subliminal) depth to our books. No one knows it, unless posted, but it's there. One of the pleasures reading INK is to learn the backstory, the layers, that go into creating books. 

I do love writing. I love being an author. But let me say, it feels really, really good to be back behind the camera. I continue to photograph Jessy and Christina as they grow into stunning adults.


Marfe Ferguson Delano said...

Susan, thank you for giving us a look at your creative process. Your admiration and affection for these young people shines through, and I can't wait to read--and look at--Beyond Magenta.

Cheryl Harness said...

What a swellegant, important book, Susan, about these valiant young people.

Gretchen Woelfle said...

Your book has so many layers of wonderfulness!

Vicki Cobb said...

I LOVE this book and gave a shout-out to it on the Huffington Post:

Susan Kuklin said...

Thank you dear friends/colleagues. Your swellegant, wonderful, look, LOVE words mean the world to me.

Susan E. Goodman said...

Susan, this was a really interesting look at how juggling our restrictions and desires in making art.

Peter Jenkins said...

Hi, so I just bought this book last week. It was great! I've identified as genderqueer for about a year and I'm starting to dress in a more gender neutral fashion. I really liked this specific design of the skirt that Cameron is wearing in the book.

So, I'm looking to get a friend to make a copy of the skirt that Cameron is wearing in the picture where he is jumping in the air, but I can't seem to find a copy of that picture online to send to my friend.

Also, I don't have a way to send a quality picture from the book.

Is there any way that someone could get me a copy of that picture?