Vincent Voignier (1971) studied Physics in France, and after living for short periods in the Philippines, Italy and Ireland he settled down twelve years ago in Berlin, Germany, where he works as a Patent Examiner.
His interest for documentary portrait photography led to the following series: Gipsy Homestories on rich gypsies in their palaces in Romania and Moldova (Lotto Brandenburg Kunstpreis Literatur Fotografie prize 2008) ; La Sapelogie on elegant dandys in Congo Brazzaville (2010); Nachtgestalten on trendy revellers after a night dancing in the Berghain, a legendary club on the Berlin techno scene (2012).
Transgender people first got my attention when I was living in the Philippines, about 15 years ago. In every area of Manila, one would see very effeminate characters walking around often with exaggerated manners. And this exaggeration in the gestures or clothing would immediately tell that they were indeed no ordinary women. This was new to me, since in France or Western Europe transgenderism is not as widespread, and its expression much more discrete.
Three years ago I started a photographic project on transgenders in the Philippines, to actually realize that, as always, the situation is not as simple as it seems at first sight. Transgenders would walk freely with apparently no fear of showing who they are, however they would experience discrimination by society, be it from their neighbourhood, workplace or family. They are accepted in society as long as they don't stray outside of their expected territories such as cabaret shows, television, or beauty parlours, be it as entertainers, hair-dressers, make-up artists or prostitutes. They would have to fight for acceptance outside such environments.
In Russia, transgenders face a totally different environment. I went to Moscow and St Petersbourg in March this year, as I thought it could offer another perspective on the transgender condition, in the context of a stronger discrimination coming from society and additional legal/political discrimination, in a country with a completely different cultural background. This results in a transgender community that is very different, much more discrete and less interconnected to start with. In the Philippines, where almost all transgenders are Male To Female, transgenderism expresses itself most often in a glamorous way. Being seen as a woman, and a beautiful one. Many Beauty contests are dedicated to MTF transgenders, and people exchange make-up tricks at Support groups. I was surprised to learn that in Russia a majority of transgenders are Female To Male. As far as I could observe and grasp, transgenderism is much less glamour, support groups are more directed at discussing gender identity issues at a psychological level, and people seem more concerned with how they feel belonging to the other gender, not only how they are seen by others as such. The whole transgender community has little visibility. Some transgenders hide their identity at the work place or in public and only cross-dress at home or in trusted circles.
It was therefore difficult to meet transgender people, and only a few were willing to be photographed, to the extent that this series does not pretend to be representative of the Russian transgender community, but rather gathers the portraits of people I managed to meet, who accepted to pose in front of the camera, and who in the end accepted that their picture will be exhibited in Russia. If it was not easy to make contacts, when I met people the exchange was always substantial, people would be keen to speak about themselves, about their experiences and personal history, and to share a much developed psychological self-analysis. I received great help from the NGO Foundation "Transgender" in Moscow, through whom I met most of the people pictured.