Photographer and filmmaker Jessica Yatrofsky’s stark, paired down portraits explore how her male and female-bodied subjects blur the lines of gender. The project originally began with her book I <3 Boy, in which she challenges viewers to question their reaction to the naked male form. “We look at the female nude as art, but still we are a little thrown off when see male nudity,” Yatrofsky explains in an interview at The Strand.
Now in her most recent book, I <3 Girl, Yatrofsky points her camera at the female figure with her signature unflinching gaze. By stripping away many visual signifiers of gender (i.e. clothing and environmental context), Yatrofsky presents her subjects as individuals, unfettered by societies imposition of this dichotomy.
In an exclusive interview with Art Report, Yatrofsky explains how her work isn’t just about loving boys and girls, it’s about loving people in their ability to exist beyond the binary.
Q: You choose stark backgrounds with neutral colors. Can you explain the significance of the simplicity of the setting of these images?
Yatrofsky: I favor simplicity in my work because vulnerability needs space to breathe. Whether photographing nudes or portraits, the process is very intimate and should be approached with respect and dignity. There isn’t a whole lot going on in most of my images (in terms of an environment) in order to keep the focus solely on the subject and the form. And the color palette I use is influenced by my background in painting. I care a great deal about composition and natural lighting, and the themes I cared about as a painter. When I work with subjects I employ those same sensibilities.
I enjoy repeating the same setups with each person I photograph, standing, sitting, 3/4 turn headshot, and eye contact, so these portraits really read as studies to me. Depending on who I’m shooting, we will make decisions together about creating an image in a different part of the house, so often times they are helping me move furniture out of the way! I like to make room for them physically, for the image, and for myself.
I like to think I create an environment where both the subject and I can occupy a collaborative state of mind when we make images together.
Q: In an interview with Vice you said that feminine beauty to you means “a balance of style, poise, and grace.” You also say in your book trailer that femininity is a “beautiful, pulsating force” that can be found in men and women. Could you expand on that? Could you give an example of when this magnetism was especially palpable during a shoot?
Yatrofsky: Each subject I shoot, male or female, come with their own unique energy and dynamic regardless of how they identify. However, as we arrive closer to a place of gender fluidity I think it will become less important to view people in terms of a binary – every human is a beautiful pulsating force.
When a subject sits for me, it’s sacred in a lot of ways and I never take that for granted. I allow my subjects to choose how they would like to be photographed, either nude or clothed, and I am continually surprised when subjects reveal during a shoot that they would like to be photographed nude after being very adamant about keeping their clothes on. It’s lovely and I’m honored when people change their minds!
Q: In your book trailer, you say that your intent was to “capture a moment in time of a collective shift that’s occurring in women to be more gender fluid in our time.” Where do you are the origins of that shift? Why now? What does it mean for our future conception of gender and its portrayal in the media/society?
Yatrofsky: I would revise that to say that I think people are becoming more gender fluid in our time. Perhaps the origin of this movement came from individuals arriving at the self realization that they didn’t agree with the gender assigned to them at birth. These are not new ideas though, they just seem new because the dissemination of information is so rapid now, a product of the modern times we are living in… But it’s interesting to see the positive impact of the internet and how in a lot of ways its supported a move towards tolerance and acceptance of individuality.
Q: Your projects I Heart Boy and I Heart Girl focus on androgyny within the two genders, but at the same time the titles of your books highlight the gender binary. As the project is in part about gender fluidity, what is the significance of that choice? Your work seems to blur the lines of gender but also reinforce them.
Yatrofsky: I look at them as two parts of the same whole in that respect. I think it’s interesting to use “girl” and “boy” as a reference point and/or meditation on what these two words evoke and how they are being expressed by these subjects. When you open both books and compare the images, I think it’s interesting to see how I am viewing them the same. I really embrace this idea of blurring lines within my work and in life in general, however with I Heart Girl it’s not so much about reinforcing gender as it is about celebrating the similarities. I care a great deal about this notion of gender fluidity because I think the way we identify with each other as equal human beings is of great importance.
Q: In an NY Mag interview you say “the next move for me is to allow room for [the two projects] to combine, as if they were never separate.” What does that entail? Does what you’re working on now reflect that, or are you going in another direction?
Yatrofsky: You know, reflecting on both past and present work, for the most part I’ve always seen my images existing all together as one large ongoing series, so grouping and arranging work as I create it seems like just a natural way of creating chapters so to speak while also giving images of a particular series a moment on their own.
“I Heart Girl” is currently available for pre-order via Amazon for $22. In addition to Yatrofsky’s personal work, she also frequently shoots for Brooklyn Magazine and a variety of other clients. Click here to see the rest of Yatrofsky’s portfolio and check her out on social media.
All images courtesy of the artist and Powerhouse Books