Soraya Zaman is famed for their versatility as a photographer, spanning portraiture, fashion, documentary reportage and still life/environmental image-making. Identifying as queer and non-binary, Zaman’s personal work explores notions of gender and sexuality.
Their project “American Boys” a documentation of the USA’s trans-masculine community from all across the USA, was published as a book in April 2019 to critical acclaim. It has since won a silver award in the Moscow international Foto Awards and the work has been featured in various international exhibitions and publications including Head On Photo Festival, Queertographny, i-D Magazine, Document Journal, LensCulture, MTV News, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, Bird in Flight, PDN, Feature Shoot and many more.
New movements in queer and trans identity politics have worked to expand contemporary notions of binary gender roles, carving out spaces for more fluid and transitory identities. Zaman’s photographs shine a light on what it means to be trans in America today through a series of sincere and intimate portraits of trans men at distinct stages of their transition.
The project reads like a coming-of-age story with no end in sight. The subjects present themselves thoughtfully, some in raw moments of emotional and physical nakedness and others carefully curate their image through clothing and pose. All the images speak to where these people locate themselves within their transition, whether that be in a race to the end or a never-ending journey.
This body of work, which started in 2016, involved travelling to each subjects’ hometowns to photograph them within their personal surroundings, which by the end covered 21 US states. While the photographs definitely focus on the strength and beauty of the bodies so boldly on display – the photographs focus just as much upon their personalities and their surroundings. The photos coalesce a double vision of the notion of home – how do these people affect their homes (both their surroundings, appearance, personalities and their bodies) to reflect their identities – and how in turn, do their homes change to house them. American Boys demonstrates a raw and honest body of work providing viewers with a snapshot into each person’s life, character and journey across the trans-masculine spectrum.
Alongside the series of portraits are small passages spoken by the subjects, stating their name, age, where they live, how long they have been on testosterone and a short discussion of their lives and how they are feeling about their transition. Parents talk about their relationship with their children, young people talk about their new romantic partners, and some speak about their spirituality. These intimate vignettes of peoples’ lives show us that gender is so much more than a body, gender is weaved into every interaction we have in this world – and as such, it should be explored, challenged and celebrated.
Soraya’s portrait style changes and adapts throughout the project. Some portraits are formally posed, others seem more relaxed like they are mid-conversation, and others almost seem unaware of Soraya’s presence. American Boys is not meant to present as a standardised anthropological study of the Trans-masculine community, quite the opposite – this is not a series meant to categorize, but de-categorize – to show the infinite expressions and forms of the trans identity and how they are effected by their lives and environments.
This is emboldened by the inclusion of each subject’s Instagram handle (a nod to the origins of the project which began as an instagram page). We, the readers, get access to the subject’s current online presence – enabling us to see what has changed in their lives since their portrait was taken, both in their transition but also in more universal ways, like what has changed from age 18 to age 20 – which we all know is a lot.
Through a weaving series of intimate portraits taken across the American landscape, this series seems to declare: trans identities do not exist within a vacuum, an extremely obvious yet controversial idea. Trans people are a part of this world, not apart from it.
View the work Soraya Zaman, a long with 11 other extraodinary artists in Queertography.
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Head On Photo Awards
The Head On Photo Awards represent a global selection of the best work from emerging and established photographers across four categories: Portrait | Landscape | Environmental | Student