Clothes can say a lot about a person; they might point to age, colour preferences, partiality to particular trends. Historically, clothing has also revealed a person’s gender identity – until now. In 2018, gender stereotypes are being done away with. Societally engrained ‘rules’ are softening. The question of nature versus nurture is being hotly debated and we can no longer assign the colour pink to a girl, or blue to a boy. Instead, we need to look at the individual without judgement and give them space to freely and honestly express themselves.

Boundary-defying editorial Blah Blah Genitals challenges what it means to be a man or a boy, stripping away preconceived notions of masculinity and replacing them with fluffy high-heels, satin gloves and soft, pastel-toned makeup. Photographer Julie Faulkner and stylist Lorena Hydelman took a light-hearted approach to tackling such a divisive topic, creating a safe and playful environment for these young boys to experiment with their self-expression. The resulting series is imbued with the innocence and authenticity of those who are yet to be tainted by society’s expectations. As we premiere Faulkner’s heartwarming video interviews (below) with the protagonists of the series, we catch up with the artist to discuss the inspiration for the shoot, the role of clothing in identifying a person and her hopes for the future of non-gendered fashion.

How did the idea for this shoot come about?

My creative partner Lorena and I went on a trip to Barcelona where we ended up becoming close friends with our couch-surfing hosts.  Their sister’s eleven-year-old son was described by his mother as dreamy and flamboyant. We said, ”hey, why don’t we do a shoot with him?” 

It was completely spontaneous and for us really just a fun day spent with friends, styled from a suitcase, lit with what I could find, shot in our artist friend’s apartment. Kai, our very first subject, was buzzing before, during and after the shoot. The shoot gave him a platform to express a side of himself that he wouldn’t feel confident showing in his everyday environment.

In the accompanying interviews, one boy admits, ‘I was nervous about wearing dresses’. Did it generally take a bit of persuasion for them to step into ‘female’ clothing?

We deliberately did not step in too much and allowed them to dictate the direction the shoot was going to take. Fashion is a wonderful vehicle that allowed them to express themselves more freely. Some boys were more hesitant than others which mirrors the image outcome. For example, Harry, who is a big fan of Ru Paul’s drag race, shared his dream of being shot in full drag with us.

What was your starting point for removing preconceptions about what a boy ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ wear?

Interestingly all the boys had an extremely open and non-judgemental view on what a boy should be like or wear. The main reason why boys would feel concerned wearing items they wore during  the creation of this project was the fear of external judgement. [It was a] clear indicator that when it comes to self-expression, it’s still feared to be dismissed, badly received and judged by society and the environment you live in.

I think even us adults can relate to this fear. Why do you think how we dress is so informed by others’ opinions?

I believe that many people tend to identify and categorise other people based on their exterior. Clothes are one way to label a person – to put them in a box. Dressing out of the stereotypical gender norm is still met with suspicion. I truly believe that removing labels and categories as a whole would bring us a lot closer to a less fearful and more accepting society.

How do you think this concept would have played out if you approached young men rather than young boys – say in their late teens or early 20s? By then the stereotypes of gendered dressing must be even further engrained.

I do believe that we are born a blank canvas and our upbringing, our peers and friends all splatter different colours onto this canvas which eventually inform which colours we later on in life accept and which we deny. The more colourful the finished painting the more accepting the person. It was wonderful to add a new, bright colour palette to a canvas that still has some empty bits and to encourage our subjects to be as bold and brave with colouring-in the future they want.

This photo series emphasises the idea of clothes just being clothes. Do you think there’s still value in traditionally ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ clothing, or is gender-neutral the future?

I believe in a future where gender doesn’t define our values, characteristics or clothes.

Watch the heartwarming video interviews with the boys below:

Video DOP & Editing ASLI UMUT


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