Telling trans stories through photos

Aspiring photographer Ethan Banfield, took the picture titled Perseverance.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many more stories could be told through an exhibition addressing the lives of transgender youth living in Cape Town?

The Photovoice Project is the brainchild of University of Cape Town Master’s degree student Sorrel Pitcher, in UCT’s Psychology Department, who collaborated with the NPO, Triangle Project, to present their exhibition Trans-parency: The Lives of South African Transgender Youth Told Through Photography, in the foyer of the psychology department foyer today, Thursday June 1.

The Triangle Project is a human rights organisation offering professional services to ensure the full realisation of constitutional and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, their partners and families.

Ms Pitcher has been facilitating the Photovoice Project for the last year, working with a group of young adults as part of her thesis. Her broader areas of interest are gender and sexuality; as well as youth identities and how these intersect with the discipline of psychology.

In 2014, Ms Pitcher worked as a counsellor in an under-resourced school near the city centre and many of the students she was working with were struggling with issues relating to gender and/ or sexuality.

“The distress that I witnessed and the lack of resources that were available to support them was the motivation behind starting this project. I rather wanted to facilitate projects that looked for alternative ways of understanding youth gender and sexuality and that positioned young people as experts on their lives,” she said.

Each participant has a unique story to tell about what it means to be a young trans person in Cape Town today, she said. “They have all been hugely dedicated to this process and have put a lot of time, effort and creativity” into curating their photo-narratives,” Ms Pitcher said.

“I also think the fact that the exhibition is taking place within the UCT Psychology Department is very significant as psychology as a discipline has historically contributed to the pathologisation of trans identities and bodies. I therefore see this exhibition as an inherent disruption within that space that signifies the current transformation that is taking place within higher education and South African psychology,” she said. “The Photovoice Projects aim to create spaces where those who have historically not been given a platform can share their experiences through photography and storytelling.”

Ms Pitcher said projects such as this one enable them to gain “the possibility of perceiving the world from the viewpoint of the people who lead lives that are different from those traditionally in control of the means for imaging the world.”

“Our project is culminating in an exhibition where the participants can share their experiences through the photo-narratives they have created,” Ms Pitcher said.

The exhibition serves two purposes, which is to create a space where young trans people can share their photo-narratives and represent their identity on their own terms, and the exhibitions are visually powerful events that can contribute to awareness around social issues and facilitate change.

For more information about the current project or would like to participate in potential future projects, email uct.photovoice.project@gmail.com