Arts Desk

FotoWeek: “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence: Identity Writ Large”

It takes a little while to appreciate Matthew Black's exhibit of portrait photography, "The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence: Identity Writ Large." At first there seemed to be nothing especially remarkable or inspiring about his collection of photos of members of the social activist group The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who take on alternate personas and fashion elaborate transformations in the name of raising awareness for LGBT causes. Black's intention with the exhibit is to challenge the viewer's concept of "real" identity. The exhibit is organized into pairs of portraits: One portrait features the Sister's "actual" self, and the other portrait features the Sister in full-on Sister regalia. The success of each pair hinges on the portrait of the subject in everyday gear. When the subject is obviously performing for the camera in the first photo (like "Sister VixXen as Marcos/Marcos as Sister VixViXen," above), the transformation into a flamboyant alter-ego doesn't seem so amazing.  But when the subject is utterly unassuming in the first photo ("Sister Charity Case as Jermaine," "Sister Velma Mae Ormaynot as Billy"), the transformation into dominatrix or geisha or whatever it may be can be truly affecting. But then, that gets at the crux of Black's point in the first place–we're all performing our selves, and just because some of us perform more theatrically doesn't mean that we're any less genuine.

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