“If I can inspire anyone or make anyone feel validated through my work then I’m happy.”
There’s a certain stereotype out there when it comes to outsiders, to people who are different. They’re the weird outcasts who don’t fit within society’s norms. While that’s true, from one standpoint, we believe that everyone is, more or less, an outsider. Just like every single person has something different about them, something that challenges in a way or another, the “rules”, there’s humanity in every weird outcast, humanity that everyone can relate to – if only they choose to look closer. That’s why I love Laurence Philomene’s works so much, because she does a hell of a job when it comes to bringing her subjects’ relatable humanity up front.
The basics – tell us more about you and what you do.
My name is Laurence and I’m a 23 year old photographer, director and curator in Montreal, Canada. I make colourful imagery that often touches on identity/gender identity. In my free time I like to nap and eat a lot of ramen.
What’s your fondest memory from your childhood? Is it in any way connected to what you do today, to your work?
I do have really fond memories of my first camera, it was a plastic camera I got when I was 5 years old, I remember very clearly the thought process behind every photo I took as a child. I have this really good memory of taking a nap with my dad when I was around 2 or 3 and having the sun warm me up through the window, it’s nothing special really but I just remember feeling very safe at that moment.
Do you think your upbringing has had an impact on your works?
Yes and no. I am very lucky to have parents who have allowed me to make whatever art I wanted without questioning it too much. I was chronically ill throughout all of my childhood so I think that definitely influenced the way I see the world – I spent a lot of time alone growing up because I was sick so I’ve had to find ways to entertain myself.
What’s your favourite project that you’ve realised until now?
I think technically my best work is my 2013 series “Sugar High” because I spent so much time on each image, making sure every pixel was perfect, and I usually never have the patience to do that. But right now I think my favourite project is definitely the one I’m currently working on, my non-binary portrait series.
5. Can you tell us more about the Non Binary Portrait Series? How did it all start, how was it received, what would you like to achieve with it? Are you non binary yourself?
The non-binary portrait series is a project in which I’ve been photographing my friends who are non-binary as they wish to be represented/as their ideal selves. The reason I decided to start this project is because I wasn’t seeing a lot of non-binary representation in the photo world and I wanted to shift my photographic practice to photographing the people that matter to me (yes I do identify as non-binary as well). Overall I’ve received a really positive response to it so far, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and thank me for making them feel seen, which is really important to me. That’s my hope with this series, to make non-binary people feel valid and important.
6. Were there any negative reactions to the Non-Binary Portrait series? What are people’s arguments, generally, when it comes to being “against” it? (am I making sense??)
Of course there were negative reactions to my non-binary series – anything that’s perceived as “different” will always bring haters. Whenever the series gets published on large platforms online a lot of people start making very transphobic comments, it’s basically what you would expect, I don’t really see the point in repeating it here. In general though the positive response outweigh the negative and that’s what I try to focus on!
7. What are some preconceptions people have/you want to dismantle about non binary people?
I think a lot of people assume non-binary people tend to be on the masculine end of the spectrum but non-binary femmes exist!! Also identities are layered, non-binary is a term that encompasses a lot of different identities and it doesn’t necessarily mean genderless or androgynous.
How would you explain what non binary is to someone who doesn’t understand or believe in the concept?
Non-binary is an umbrella term for any trans person who doesn’t fit in the binary of man/woman. There’s not just one way to be non-binary, in essence it just means that you are not a man or woman in the binary sense of the word, but it encompasses a multitude of different identities.
Who do you find to be inspirational?
10. What do you look for in someone you’d like to photograph?
11. What is your favourite part about photographing people?
Getting to spend time with my friends, meeting new people, creating something that makes the people I’m photographing feel good about themselves.
12. Is being in front of the camera harder than being behind it?
I don’t think so! I think it’s a lot harder to be behind the camera and create a setting where whoever you’re photographing feels comfortable fully being themselves in front of the camera, it requires a lot of emotional energy.