"Drag, in case you didn’t know, is the tradition of dressing up in and often exaggerating qualities of a certain gender for the sake of performance.
However, as Judith Butler made plain in her 1990 text Gender Trouble, “There is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original.” Although drag is often regarded as a form of impersonation, Butler asserts that there is no manifestation of gender that isn’t already constructed, choreographed or performed in some way. What is traditional femininity if not curls and heels and soft gestures? What is masculinity if not imposing posture, stern expressions and a heavy dose of pride?
Long before theories like Butler’s made their way into college curriculums and mainstream culture, they were played out before the camera. The exhibition “He/She/They” at Los Angeles’ ROSEGALLERY explores how photographers have demonstrated the way both gender and identity only exist when performed. The artists on view posit there is no natural way to be a woman or a man, just as there is no natural way to be oneself.
The show features a variety of artists who live and work everywhere from Mexico City to Osaka, Japan, each using the camera to document the always already artificial nature of the self.
Some photographers capture their subjects as strictly masculine or feminine, adhering to the codes that establish them as such. Others operate in the space between, depicting people who are androgynous or genderqueer. And many enjoy playing with conventions, turning them upside down while switching genders or ethnicities as easily as one switches an outfit.
The following eight photographers are a diverse bunch. Some lay bare the norms and practices we associate with gender, while others work to overturn them. But all, in some way, realize that subjects don’t just perform for the camera, they perform in the self-portraits that constitute their lives. "