Serena Jara

BY Elisabeth Biondi, November 2, 2015

Serena Jara is on a mission, and not only with her photographs. It is the way she lives, the way she looks, the way she dresses, and the friends she has. Together they are part of her identity. Jara is a trans-feminine artist who uses photography to express the struggles and pleasures she and her circle of friends experience. Music and fashion are creative outlets as well, but photography is the tool with which she fearlessly reveals herself.

The title for her most recent project, which is ongoing, is HRT (which stands for hormone replacement therapy). Taking photographs of herself and a circle of trans-feminine friends is a way of recording their physical and emotional transformation. Her pictures reflect the conviction that her way of being, although different from conventional sexual role models, is meaningful and fulfilling. Her gaze into the camera is defiantly direct, leaving no doubt that that she is determined to challenge negative reactions.

Her transgender friends, Ser and Gogo, are equally invested in this often-difficult struggle against marginalization. When she photographs them, they appear less introverted than she does, and equally defiant. The way Jara poses her friends recalls the “girlie,” cheesecake photographs of the ‘50s, and it is the contradiction between attitude and pose that makes these pictures so compelling.

Never safe from ridicule and threat, sometimes even violence, Jara finds strength within her family in Minnesota, where she grew up, and her community of like-minded friends. But she is also inspired by such artists as Carrie Mae Weems, who she admires for the way she implicates her own body in her work; Rineke Dijkstra, for her deadpan aesthetic; and Cindy Sherman, for existing in so many dimensions and references. All three are strong and feminine artists. So is Serena Jara.