The Photograph Five

Mariette Pathy Allen

July 1, 2023

Mariette Pathy Allen has been photographing the transgender community for half a century. Her first book, Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them (Dutton), was published in 1990, and almost 30 years later, in 2019, her exhibition Rites of Passage: 1978-2006 was shown at the Museum of Sex. In a review of that show, our critic David Rosenberg wrote, “Photographs tell stories, they provide a way for us to join a collective narrative through our personal histories. Simply by being present with her subjects, by capturing both the ordinary and extraordinary, Pathy Allen has given visibility to a history that was always there.” Through July 30, viewers can see her work at the Culture Lab LIC, in Mariette Pathy Allen: Breaking Boundaries, 50 Years of Images. A companion group exhibition of work relating to her photographs of gender-expansive people, Breaking More Boundaries, is also on view, with photographs by Jess T. Dugan, Zachary Drucker, as well as artists selected through an open call. As a record number of bills are being advanced that attack LGBTQ people and transgender youth, Pathy Allen’s sensitive portraits witness and celebrate that community.

Mariette Pathy Allen responded to five questions from photograph.

Martin Parr, Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, England, 1975. ©Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Name a photograph that brings you joy.

I love the disparate characters in this Martin Parr photograph and the composition. It offers a lot of information and odd juxtapositions! You could even see it as a still life. Odd juxtapositions of people, objects, or environments have always appealed to me.

Cover of MoMA Now. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art

Favorite photo book?

MoMA NOW, 19th anniversary edition. Maybe I’m cheating with this choice but I really love so much of modern art, photography and beyond, and this book offers a large selection of work that I want to see over and over. 

Lee Friedlander, New York City, 1995. ©Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery and Luhring Augustine

Last exhibition you saw?

Lee Friedlander Framed by Joel Coen. This exhibition at Luhring Augustine is a brilliant selection of work that presents Friedlander’s use of straight lines bisecting or trisecting photographs. Rather than obstructions, these divisions mark significant differences between the locations or activities within each part of the photograph. They create tidy and detailed pieces of information. The photographs feel like movie stills grounded in nostalgia and mystery.

Installation from the Imagine Museum, St. Petersburg, FL

Favorite museum?

MoMA works well for me. I don’t get lost as I do at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other enormous museums, and it offers a variety of exhibitions, all the time. It is the place where I first realized I was an artist.

A small museum that astonished me recently is the Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, FL. Every piece of art is made of glass. I didn’t know that glass could be made to do so many brilliant things.

Favorite work of art that’s not a photograph?

Dance, 1910, by Matisse. I was a child when I first saw the painting, and I had an epiphany. I felt that I “understood” it. I felt that I knew what the artist was doing, that it all made sense.

Mariette Pathy Allen, Malu with her parents and sister, in front of their home, Cienfuegos, Cuba, 2016. Courtesy the artist