Leah Eve Corbett, June (they/them). 2017, medium format film photographs on digital archival prints
At the bustling Jamaica Plain tapas restaurant, record store, and bookshop Tres Gatos, photographer Leah Eve Corbett’s exhibition Nonbinary presents multi-dimensional images of nonbinary people at their most vulnerable and most invincible states of being. By juxtaposing highly stylized fashion shoots and intimate portraits of the same subjects, Corbett challenges the idea that the only valid “genderless” presentation is one that relates back to a white masculine aesthetic.
Corbett deliberately places familiar images of the subjects home at the center of each composition to show the individuals in their most unguarded state. In one piece, a model relaxes in bed with a teddy bear, while in another they exhale smoke from a wooden pipe in their kitchen. Framing these vignettes are distorted versions of the models from more formal fashion shoots, which simultaneously provides the viewer with two contrasting perceptions of each model. These distortions vary within each composition. While some pieces feature multiple overlapping versions of the same photo, others take on a filter to make the image resemble scenes off a damaged VHS tape. All the compositions evoke a sense of duality in the models’ presentation – one that is real and one that is artificial.
Leah Eve Corbett, MJ (they/them). 2017, medium format film photographs on digital archival prints.
As I walked into Tres Gatos, I anticipated a formal opening in a gallery space, with gorgeous lighting and a variety of people mingling as they fawned over Corbett’s work. In actuality, the space was like any other trendy Boston bar and restaurant, with diners speaking softly to one another about their days work in warm, dim light as Corbett’s images decorated the space. The photographs were set up next to dining tables, on shelves, and even next to dish cabinets throughout the restaurant, the mood lighting rendering the details of the images barely discernible.
I was initially frustrated that I couldn’t get a closer look at the art without the risk of intruding on a couple’s date or knocking over a glass, but as I observed the exhibition in full, I remembered that the exhibit’s purpose was far greater than its simple presentation. The images spoke to nonbinary experiences – experiences so rarely seen and so frequently invalidated that for them to even exist in a public space is inherently powerful, and let alone reasserts the multi-dimensionality of the community. Corbett’s exhibition reminds us that nonbinary is not just aesthetic; it is a real, complex, multifaceted human experience. And even if such experiences were only visual complements to meals, I believe their message vastly overpowered the crowded bar space that housed them.
Leah Eve Corbett, June (they/them). 2017, medium format film photographs on digital archival prints.
Nonbinary is on view at Tres Gatos through February 1st. You can find other works by Leah Eve Corbett on their website or their Instagram @leahevecorbett.