A documentary team attends the opening to take photos of the upcoming documentary “Larry”
The COA Gallery opened the exhibition Pubertya self-portrait photography project that documents Laurence Philomène’s transition as a non-binary transgender person, on April 7 and will be open until May 7.
Also on display was their book of the same name, of which they sold signed copies.
Their large, colorful photographs line the gallery walls, each meticulously signed by the artist with a handwritten one-line description of the image.
Gallery owner Jean-Pascal Fournier was thrilled to open this exhibition, the first since the onset of COVID-19, as he discovered and fell in love with Philomène’s work during the pandemic.
“I immediately saw a link between the vision I have of the gallery; for the work that I present and their work in photography,” he said.
Fournier explained that the COA Gallery presents atypical works that are often found in the fringe. He explained that trans and non-binary artists often find themselves in the fringe arts as well as unfortunately on the margins of society.
“I think it’s important to give them space and to present art that we see less of or hear less of,” he added.
Nonetheless, this exhibition explores themes that have never been explored at the gallery in its eight years of existence, Fournier said.
“Laurence’s exhibition, Puberty, is very intimate,” he explained. “We track their transition from when they start taking testosterone.”
He also added that this is the first time the gallery has presented Philomène’s work, and having their work displayed in its entirety allows visitors “to step into Laurence’s universe”.
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Philomène explained that every day since January 2019, they have taken photos of themselves, their house and the objects around them.
“At first it felt more like a chore […] and I feel like maybe I was pushing myself to do something really different every day,” they said. However, now that they have been working on this project for three years, they have learned not to put too much pressure on themselves and sometimes allow themselves to only take pictures of the sky.
The project Puberty started out as a photography endeavor, but after a few months Philomène realized it would make an interesting book project.
“From that moment, I created images with the state of mind that [they were] going to be in a book,” they said.
“I really want to walk the line between [having my art be] political but at the same time [having it be] about the beauty of life and the beauty of everyday moments.
— Laurence Philomene
Philomène’s book contains pages with handwritten captions, which they explained were added after taking, editing and sequenced each photo.
“I wrote the captions based on what the images reminded me of,” they added. “[I] also want[ed] to weave a narrative because it’s a book that has a story.
Philomène shared their entire journey with their online followers, which they believe helped them complete this project, but more importantly they wanted to complete it on their own.
They said the first audience was themselves and the second was all the transgender and non-conforming people who paved the way before them and those who could see themselves in their art.
“[The third audience is] the general public who could learn something and think about their identity in a less restrictive way,” Philomène added.
“I really want to walk the line between [having my art be] political but at the same time [having it be] about the beauty of life and the beauty of everyday moments,” they explained.
They have stated that their mission as artists is to bring more love to the trans community and for everyone to look at their life through a more colorful lens. “The role I take on is to bring hope and serotonin with my images,” they added.
After Philomena in the gallery, their film crew was also making a documentary. The film will be in English although Philomène is French-speaking due to the highly gendered nature of the French language, according to Concordia-educated director Catherine Legault.
The documentary, titled larry, is about Philomène’s photographic project and their documentation of their transition, Legault said.
“The film documents Laurence’s artistic process as well as their transition and how […] they use [their work] as a tool to express their gender identity,” she said. “But the film hopes to go beyond the image and really meet Laurence in their intimate universe.”
Legault began the documentary by first occasionally filming Philomène at their home, then she obtained a development grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, assembled a team and is now officially in production.
“We didn’t know each other. [well] to [first]so we built a relationship and a connection when I started filming,” she said.
The director says she met Philomène while working on her previous film, Sisters: Dream & Variations, and hired them as a photographer. They stayed in touch after this collaboration, and when the artist published the first photos of their project Puberty with short captions, Legault became more engaged with their Instagram.
“I thought their photos were beautiful but also that there was a story behind [them],” she says.
If all goes well, she concluded, the film should be released in 2023, but until then she encourages people to visit the gallery – which is free – for the intimate and colorful display of the reality of Philomène as well as “the beautiful exhibition of non-binary bodies.
“I think it’s really important right now with […] LGBTQ[IA+] rights violated all over the world, [and] in Quebec recently with Bill 2,” said Legault. “So I think it’s just a big boost for them to say out loud that they exist, that they’re proud, and we should listen to them and we should accept them for who they are.”