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Featured Finalist: Julie Sundberg

Jack, 2012

Jack 2012 is a 2013 finalist in the Head On Portrait Prize

“In a lot of ways I feel more like a girl than a boy…but I don’t really identify as being transsexual. I mean, internally, in my head, I feel like a female, and I always have for as long as I can remember. But at the same time I was born physically male, and raised accordingly, and conditioned to sort of put on this more masculine kind of front.

I don’t feel any desire to get a sex-change. I mean, I get mistaken for a girl on an almost daily basis anyway. I like to think of it as a gift, like I’ve been blessed (and cursed) with the fairly unique ability to experience the world as both (or neither) gender.”

Jack Mannix (interviewed by Marta Jary, for somethingyousaid.com)

I have known Jack since he was seven. He was one of my daughter’s best friends at school and spent many hours at our home on sleepovers or just hanging out. I remember an occasion when he was at our place for a party and one of the other mothers asked him – in front of a roomful of people – whether he was a boy or a girl. I was mortified and asked her why it mattered. He was 9 at the time. I thought Jack was a delightful and eccentric individual, but I didn’t see him as being particularly male or female and certainly not gay or straight.

He started high school at Sydney Grammar on a full scholarship, which was like trying to fit a round peg into a very square hole, so naturally he rebelled against that. Around this time I ran a photography course for a small group of my daughter’s friends, including Jack. That started his love affair with the camera. He began photographing bands at age 13 and was represented in the Jack (Daniels) Awards. Everyone expected him to be the next big thing; it seemed as though people were feeding off him, so he rebelled against that too. People were watching him so closely that he never had the chance to explore his interests like other kids.

Jack is a highly intelligent and talented young man, but dropped out of school at age 15, around the time he came out. I didn’t see him much for a good few years when he was living in Melbourne – he played in bands (Kiosk and Circle Pit), toured America, and got into drugs.

Jack’s mum is a good friend, so I got regular updates about what he was doing, and we reconnected when he came back to Sydney.

I am not a prolific shooter, preferring to work closely with people over time and think about what is being revealed. I prepare for portrait sessions by combining what I know about the sitter with my background in art and photography. I have a visual diary and always have some ideas ready for lighting, pose and posture – the session then goes where it goes according to what happens between us.

The image in Head On was from my first shoot with Jack. I shot some digital images of him dressed in his street clothes to test the lighting. They seemed a bit stiff so I suggested he look at some of my daughter’s clothes – Jack came to one of my artist talks in a petticoat, so I knew he liked to wear dresses. He chose a pink slip and once he put it on something magical happened and I knew we were now entering interesting territory. I got out my Hasselblad and shot a few polaroids and 5 rolls of 120 film.

The area of identity, sexuality and gender stereotyping has interested me for many years. I have been photographing Danny Abood, of Sylvia and the Synthetics, for nearly 30 years. I will continue to photograph both Danny and Jack for as long as I can, as part of an ongoing series.

Jack Mannix is a musician, artist and writer. He currently performs in Circle Pit, Beautiful and Drown Under, produces a zine as Virginia Slim and makes collages and photographs.

Julie Sundberg, 2013. Website: juliesundberg.com

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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 open in May/June.

Image detail: Gary Ramage