To appreciate JJ Levine’s photos in the Alone Time series, linger for a moment. The young couples captured during routine domestic activities are not actually couples. These are portraits of the same person, dressed as both a man and a woman.
The illusion is fantastically convincing, due in part to the years Levine spent alternately identifying as male and female (although he’s keeping his hair and makeup tricks under wraps). The photos here are of Levine’s friends, who “live beyond and outside of the confines of the mainstream, capitalist gay world,” Levine says. The Montreal-based photographer has spent nearly a decade photographing his friends, lovers, and siblings, and says he’s most “interested in my own fluid and shifting identity, and the lives and identities of my friends.”
Artistically, Levine’s work follows in the footsteps of Claude Cahun (who he cites as an influence), an early 20th century lesbian writer whose work explored notions of gender. Even more recent are Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits, taken over the course of 35 years, in which she expertly disguises herself–as a clown, or as clergyman–and plays with the artifice of personal appearance.
Although careful to not speak for the broader gay or transgender communities, Levine’s work could also be considered part of a larger conversation around body modification and the meaning of gender. Besides the increasing prevalence of tattoos and plastic surgery (which can lean towards the extreme), last year The New Yorker reported on the spike in teenagers pursuing sex change operations. Even Facebook announced that it will introduce gender options other than just male and female. It makes Levine’s work all the more timely.