For her series “Transcending Self,” Annie Tritt makes portraits and conducts interviews with transgender and gender-expansive kids and adolescents, aged 2 to 20. Tritt, an editorial and portrait photographer, began the project three years ago. “I was interested in authenticity, and I wanted to do work that mattered,” she tells PDN by email. “Even though a good portion of my life was spent with the LGBTQ community in New York and San Francisco,” she says she knew little about the transgender community, and wanted to find a project that “explored people’s inner lives.” Eventually Tritt connected with Gender Spectrum, an organization that supports young trans people, which helped her find subjects and worked with her on “some of the challenges I might face and issues I really needed to think about.”
Tritt says the process of making the images is collaborative. “I really want the photos to be a representation of the person in front of the camera and not my ideas about them,” she says. In them, subjects from around the U.S. and in Europe pose in bedrooms and living rooms, on front lawns and in backyards or on stoops and in parks. Tritt asks older subjects to take her to places that are meaningful to them, and then “we just spend time together,” she says, although she sometimes direct where they stand or look. With younger subjects, “I’ve learned just to let the youngest ones play and hang out with them. I then stop them” and take the picture.
The interviews include answers to questionnaires that Tritt gives to her subjects and sometimes to the parents of very young kids. “That part sort of happened organically,” she says. “I think in my fantasy career I’m Terry Gross. So the interviewing part is really exciting.” After each shoot, she sends a set of written questions, which have evolved over the course of the project. “This way they’ve already gotten to know me and trust me and they can say exactly what they mean to say.” She asks subjects to describe their hopes and dreams and the challenges they’ve faced, and asks parents to describe what’s special about their child (“He…wants to help other kids like him, kids that maybe don’t have parents who are as supportive as me,” says the mother of an 8 year old in Illinois.) Tritt prefers writing to audio interviews (which she also conducts), because “I really want these families and young people to be saying exactly what they need to say and what they want people to know about them,” she says. “I want it to be their story. I just help coax it along.”
Tritt used a rented Pentax 645Z “for 90% of my shoots,” with a few others shot with her Canon or on film with a Hasselblad. The project has involved a lot of travel, which she has paid for herself. “Quite frankly the biggest challenge has been funding,” she says. Another challenge has been the current political climate, and the “wave of hate crimes and hate legislation” it has brought. But that, she says, has made her “more committed to making this project work.”