Laurence Philomène’s photography exhibit ‘Puberty’ aims “to bring some hope and some serotonin” to visitors

Documentary crew attends opening to get shots for upcoming documentary ‘Larry’

‘Puberty’ will be showcased at C.O.A. Gallery until May 7. Photo Stella Mazurek

The C.O.A. Gallery opened the exhibit Puberty, a self-portrait photography project that documents Laurence Philomène’s transition as a transgender non-binary person, on April 7 and will remail open until May 7.

 On display was also their book of the same name, which they were selling signed copies of. 

Their large, colourful photographs line the walls of the gallery, each one signed meticulously by the artist along with a one line handwritten description of the image.

The owner of the gallery, Jean-Pascal Fournier, was excited to open this exhibit—the first since the start of COVID-19—because he discovered and fell in love with Philomène’s work during the pandemic.

“I immediately saw a link between the vision I have for the gallery; for the work that I present and their work in photography,” he said.

Philomène has been taking pictures of themself, their home, and objects since 2019. Photo Stella Mazurek

Fournier explained the C.O.A. Gallery presents atypical artworks that are often found in the fringe. He explained that trans and non-binary artists often find themselves in fringe arts as well as unfortunately on the fringe of society.

“I think it’s important to give them space and to present art we see less or hear less about,” he added.

Nonetheless, this exhibit explores themes that have never been touched upon at the gallery in its eight years of operation, said Fournier.

“Laurence’s exposition, Puberty, is very intimate,” he explained. “We follow their transition from the moment they start taking testosterone.”

He also added it’s the first time the gallery presents Philomène’s work, and the fact that their work is presented in full allows visitors "to enter Laurence’s universe.” 

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Philomène explained every day since January 2019, they have been taking pictures of themself, their home, and objects around them.

“At first, it definitely felt more like a chore […] and I feel like I was maybe pushing myself to do something really different every day,” they said. However, now that they’ve been working on this project for three years, they’ve learned to not pressure themself too much, and allow themself to sometimes only take pictures of the sky.

The project Puberty started as a photography effort, but after a few months, Philomène realized it would make an interesting book project.

“From that point on, I was creating images with the mindset that [they were] going to be in a book,” they said.

“I really want to walk the line between [having my art be] political but at the same time [having it be] about the beauty of life and the beauty of everyday moments.” — Laurence Philomène

Philomène’s book contains pages with handwritten captions, which they explained were added after they shot, edited, and sequenced every photo.

“I wrote the captions based on what the images reminded me of,” they added. “[I] also want[ed] to weave a narrative because it is a book that has a storyline.”

Philomène shared their entire journey with their followers online, which they said helped them see this project through to the end, but they mainly wanted to complete it for themself.

They said the first audience is themself and the second one is every trans and gender non-conforming person who paved the way before them and those who might see themself in their art.

“[The third audience is] the general public who might get to learn something and get to think about their identity in less restrictive ways,” Philomène added.

“I really want to walk the line between [having my art be] political but at the same time [having it be] about the beauty of life and the beauty of everyday moments,” they explained.

They said their artist mission is to bring more love to the trans community and for everyone to look at their life with a more colourful lens. “The role I take on is to bring some hope and some serotonin with my images,” they added. 

Following Philomène around the gallery was their film crew, as they are also in the process of making a documentary. The film will be in English despite Philomène being francophone due to the very gendered nature of the French language, according to Catherine Legault, the Concordia alumnus film director.

‘Puberty’ started as a photography effort but eventually also became a book project. Photo Stella Mazurek

The documentary, entitled Larry, is about Philomène’s photography project and their documentation of their transition, said Legault.

“The film is documenting Laurence’s artistic process as well as their transition and how […] they use [their work] as a tool for expressing their gender identity,” she said. “But the film hopes to go beyond the image and really meet Laurence in their intimate world.”

Legault started the documentary by first occasionally filming Philomène in their home, then she got a development grant from The Canada Council for the Arts, assembled a crew, and is now officially in production.

“We didn’t know each other that [well] at [first], so we built a relationship and a connection as I started filming,” she said.

The film director said she met Philomène while she was working on her previous film, Sisters: Dream & Variations, and hired them as a photographer. They kept in touch after this collaboration, and when the artist published the first photos of their project Puberty along with short captions, Legault became more engaged with their Instagram.

“I thought their pictures were beautiful but also that there was a story behind [them],” she said. 

If everything goes well, she concluded, the film should be out in 2023, but until then, she encourages people to visit the gallery—which is free of charge—for the intimate, colourful display of Philomène’s reality along with “the beautiful display of non-binary bodies.”

“I think it’s really important right now with […] LGBTQ[IA+] rights being pushed down everywhere in the world, [and] in Quebec recently with Bill 2,” Legault said.  “So, I think it’s just a great momentum for them to say out loud that they exist, that they are proud, and we should listen to them and we should accept them as they are.”