The portrait of Jennah

The first portrait I took of Jennah is from the year 2009. At the time I was working on a series of portraits of transvestite people. I was interested in the performative aspect of transvestitism and in the relation between the gender characters: male/female, during the daily life of those people. When I met Jennah the first time she was still a man, occasionally dressing like a woman. She was one of the few transvestite people who was openly homosexual. A few days after the portrait was taken, I went to visit her in her music studio in Helsinki. I was impressed by the fact that even dressing like a man, without any performative settling she was still giving me the impression of being a woman. In that occasion she also confided me her future plans to change sex. At that time she had a great urge to document her transformation, to create a visual record of the results of what she had been planned for the whole life. Being photographed was for her part of the change, a semi-scientific record of the research she was doing about her present and future image. The image, her photographic representation, was both whiteness and working material to approach her new visual self. At the beginning of 2012 she finally became legally a woman. All her documents where changed and all the men clothes disappear from her closet. Our first image in 2012 wanted to document the image of a newborn Jennah without lies.  Unlike the first portrait this would have been the image of a real woman portrayed for the first time. The results of a new “unconstructed” identity. This was the first image of Jennah and she never liked it. Probably because it represents the normality of her transformation. The every day life of being a woman, even if for the first time in her life. The ability to create an honest image without extra overstatements was my goal as portrait photographer. But my idea crushed with Jennah’s expectations to be transformed into something special, into somebody different. We both started to use this image as a reference, as a starting point of a transformation process. (For her as an esthetical reference for me as a theoretical one.)  The discussions around this image directed my choices in the creation of the project and influence Jennah’s decisions in the creation of her new esthetic.

In November 2012 Jennah traveled to Thailand to undergo to a facial and breast surgery that changed her appearance forever. My image of Jennah became the photograph of somebody who doesn’t exist anymore. This image became part of a rejected past, like the old photographs of when she was still a man. All the images taken before the surgery became the witness of a disappeared existence. The surgery was the finalization of the complete detachment from her old identity. 

During the recovery she spent four weeks in a hotel room in Bangkok.  I was visiting her twice a week trying to portray the different moments of her post-surgery. Often she was reacting very negatively to the photos and to her image. Her new appearance wasn’t fulfilling her expectations and in many occasions she told me that she would have like to go back to surgery to change again. The fear to not be accepted as a woman and the psychological difficulties in accepting her new image are at the core of the project. The image, real or photographed, represents for Jennah the starting point of a psychological and subconscious transformation and acceptance of the new self. Without the acceptance of her new esthetical side there is no acceptance of her new gender identity. 

The project’s last images are the photos of Jenna in January and February 2013. The new portraits represent the totally transformed Jennah.