What Gender Construct? Queer Portrait Artist Explores Identity

by Maggie Freleng

Queer portrait artist JJ Levine doesn’t need to tell us to think twice about his series “Alone Time”-- the strikingly intimate visuals do it themselves.  

The series is about perception,” Levine told VITAMIN W. “My aim is to make visually confusing and intriguing images that call ­­into question the legitimacy of the gender binary.”

Levine started "Alone Time” in 2007. Using one model for two genders in the same frame, the Montreal-based artist encourages viewers to think about gender outside of the fixed heteronormativity of traditional gender roles.

"Alone Time" is not the only series the acclaimed artist uses to explore identity. "Switch" is another series that captures two models who switch genders.

Speaking about "Alone Time" Levine said, “By demonstrating a single body’s capacity to engagingly and believably embody either gender, my project questions the mainstream depiction of binary gender roles, queering these images of so-called normative existence.”

Levine, who "seeks to confuse, inspire, and amuse,” told VITAMIN W the series was influenced by personal experiences.

“My own life and experience of queerness and gender inspire me,” he said. “I am also inspired by my friends, lovers, and siblings, and by queer and gender nonconforming people everywhere.”

Thus far, Levine said the response to his project has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“When I have shown this work in print publications, online, and in galleries, I have had mostly really great responses.”

And fortunately, Levine is able to continue this series and revisit “Alone Time” to focus on creating new images after being awarded the 2013 Canada Council for the Arts Project Grant.

The above image of the pregnant couple is the only recent image he has released, however he says by the summer of 2014 this body of work should consist of about 20 images.

“Through techniques of masquerade and drag, my project compels viewers to consider the complexity of gender hidden by heteronormativity, placing traditional relationship models under scrutiny,” he said.

“I want to encourage viewers—who don’t already—to think about gender as something other than prescribed and fixed. And for those whose realities already include these ideas, I want to make images that affirm such notions. I want viewers to relate to my work on an aesthetic level."

Levine also added he never reveals the gender identity of any models he uses. After all, if we have learned anything from his project, does it really matter?

We are all people in the end.

Maggie Freleng is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer focusing on social justice, gender, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @dixiy89.

"Alone Time" by JJ Levine