Robyn Hasty Challenges Perspectives On Gender and Body

American photographer Robyn Renee Hasty deconstructs the rigid representation of the human form in search of a more fluid identity. Her latest New York exhibition titled Z consists of an extensive series of 19th century-inspired wet-plate portraits that explore the increasingly prevalent contemporary theme of gender binaries. At first glance, Hasty’s Victorian-esque photographs awaken a feeling of familiarity, due to their formally classical arrangement. Yet on further inspection, the raw body of work interprets the human figure in a new light. Hasty continually works with transgender, cisgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming individuals; for this series she opted to present her subjects stripped down in the nude in order to reveal a common neutral identity that exists within us all. The WILD had the chance to catch up with Robyn, who informed us on this remarkable project, currently being displayed at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

disaster-portrait[1]-2Image courtesy of Ross Morrison

Tell us about your latest gender-focused exhibition:

Z is a collection of nude glass plate portraits of transgander, cisgender and a spectrum of genderqueer and gender non-conforming individuals. Through this body of work, I am challenging the perception of how gender is perceived, expressed and embodied. The aim of the show is to dissolve the boundaries that define the conventional gender binary, and cultivate a sense of ambiguity and fluidity that can help overturn narrow and limiting perspectives on gender and body.

Can you please elaborate on why you opted to title the series Z?

I chose Z  because it refers to one of several proposed gender-neutral pronouns. Introducing a third, neutral pronoun is one way that language could affirm identities that exist outside of the binary. Neutral pronouns are in use in a lot of communities, but the wide adoption of them would be step towards a linguistic inclusivity that hopefully would express a wider social acceptance of non-binary identities.


What inspired this notion of challenging gender perspectives through 19th century-inspired glass plate portraiture?

I use the wet plate process for a lot of reasons, and a big chunk of them are more about technique and process than the fact that the process is historic. But, I am aware that the process lends itself to a time-based reading of the work, and I think I have embraced that. One of the effects of using this process is that people have difficulty placing these images in time. It’s unclear whether they’re historic or modern, and that ambiguity is something that is relevant to this project. There’s a way that using a historic process for this subject matter rewrites a history that has always existed and is largely undocumented in actual 19th century photographs.

As an artist, your practice explores transitional identities, gender non-conformation and awareness. In your opinion, how does nudity portray a more diverse and fluid identity?

I think the effect of the nude in a body of work about gender really allows for the perception of the viewer to be challenged. Not being told how a person identifies, the viewer is left to consider how they interpret the image. The facial expression, the shape of the body, the gesture of the model all factor in, and the way the viewer attaches meaning to these elements says more about their definitions than about the model’s identity. The broadening of perception surrounding gender would be a huge step towards greater diversity — once we can stop automatically assigning someone a role based on a beard, or breasts or an expression of vulnerability or sensuality or aloofness, the rigid expectations of gender start to dissolve and we could possibly move towards a more inclusive society.

What message would you like to radiate with in this specific body of work?

I think, at its core, this project is about inclusivity and connection to other human beings. I think if people walked away with that sense, it would be a really wonderful thing.


How has traveling affected you in terms of your own perception of gender within society? Has it influenced your relationship with making art today?

I can’t say that traveling, specifically, has affected my own perception of gender in any way more than just everyday life can reinforce a gendered experience. If anything, traveling has made me more grateful that I live in a big city that is accepting of diverse perspectives, and has large enough alternative communities that I can live mostly around people who support that diversity. Leaving the city can be a harsh wake up that there are places that don’t have such safe havens for ideas and ways of life that fall outside of the mainstream. Traveling will definitely continue to inform my practice — it is always good to get outside of what you know, throw a wrench into patterns and habits, and expand one’s perspective on life and the world.

What is your WILD wish?

Hmm…. to live on a boat and sail around the world.


Robyn’s exhibition Z in on view until July 12, 2015 at Pioneer Works

text by: nicole zane and emory lopiccolo

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