At first glance, these photos by JJ Levine look like your average mortifyingly awkward prom-couple portraits. It’s all there: the requisite purplish-gray backdrop, peach-fuzz mustaches, baggy rental tuxedos, and tragically gaudy gowns. But look again, and you notice something unusual: The couples have swapped genders from one photo to the next, convincingly (and confusingly) embodying both sexes with just a change of clothing and makeup.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” is not the reaction your average high schooler hopes for on prom night–but in many cases, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the actual genders of the people in Levine’s series, called “Switch.” And that’s what Levine is going for–having alternately identified as male and female for years, the Montreal-based photographer seeks to destabilize the idea of gender as a singular, fixed state, instead revealing its fluidity. As in his series “Alone Time,” in which one person is captured as two genders in domestic settings, the ruffled and tuxedoed subjects here confound us with their ability to shift sexes, or to occupy the widely misunderstood space between genders. Each model wears a dress and a luxurious wig when portraying a woman, and a suit when portraying a man–along with masterful makeup by Levine.
The photographer subtly and playfully points out that if such costumes are all it takes for us to make assumptions about a person’s gender, then our cultural understanding of gender must be pretty superficial. Maybe the humiliating tradition that is prom night wouldn’t be so bad if it were turned into a nationwide drag ball.