There’s no arguing that the range of images of women depicted in mainstream media is limited—not only in terms of race, class, and body size, but gender expression as well. The term “butch” is often used to describe the performance of female masculinity in LGBT communities. These are women who don’t necessarily fit into traditional gender roles and resist limited definitions of what a woman is.
BUTCH: Not like the other girls is a new photographic art exhibit by Vancouver-based artist SD Holman. Starting in March, the collection ran as a public art exhibit displayed in 20 bus shelters across Vancouver. From April 9 to 25, BUTCH: Not like the other girls will open as a gallery exhibit featuring 20 more photographs at the Cultch (1895 Venables Street).
“I’m really interested in the liminal space, the spaces in between that don’t occupy the binary of gender,” Holman, who is also artistic director for Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival, told the Georgia Straight in a recent phone interview. “I want to document our community for us because I don’t think there’s enough images that we can relate to.”
Holman, who was born in California and received a degree in photography from Emily Carr University of Art and Design started the BUTCH photography project nearly five years ago.
“I went to Portland and Seattle, and…a conference so there were people from other places. I shot people from England, and somebody from New York—all over the States,” she recalled, noting that the majority of her subjects are Canadian. “People came out and really wanted to do it.”
However, when Holman’s wife—Vancouver social worker Catherine White Holman—died in a float plane accident in 2009, the artist put her photography project on hiatus.
“I’ve taken it back up for her because she was the one who pushed me to do it,” Holman said. “Catherine was the biggest fan of butches I ever met.”
Holman has now taken photographs of nearly 100 models and hopes to turn BUTCH: Not like the other girls into a book. She is also working towards a Master of photography degree from Savannah College of Art and Design.
“We have so many images that we’re bombarded with about the way we’re supposed to look and the way we’re supposed to be in the world,” she said. “It’s dangerous for people like me and people that I photograph to be in the world, so I think the more images we have out there can help people on both sides.”
Holman hopes that the BUTCH exhibit extends far beyond LGBT communities and that her photographs—whether displayed in transit shelters or art galleries—challenge audiences to re-examine definitions of gender, sexuality, and what it means to be a woman.
“I hope it is meaningful and transformative and people will recognize themselves in it,” she said. “I hope they think that they are beautiful, and people can be outside of our normal ideas of what it means to be female or male.”