Captured

Out and proud: Heroic portraits of America's transgender community

A poignant yet witty series in the style of John Singer Sargent and... Bob Ross?

With a click of the camera's shutter, the present moment is caught on film. By contrast, a portrait is a type of fabrication — an idealized view that the subject and the artist create together with props, backdrops, poses, and lighting.

It is this artistic dichotomy that photographer Lorenzo Triburgo, 33, wanted to explore with his vibrant series Transportraits.

"I wanted to make a genuine, proud portrait while at the same time calling attention to the fallacy of portraiture," he said in an interview.

The Portland, Ore., photographer sought to use the medium of photography and the theme of portraiture to explore both American masculinity and transgender identity. When he started the endeavor in 2008, Triburgo was going through his own transition, so the project allowed him to navigate personal issues through professional interests.

To reflect the style of traditional American portraiture, Triburgo wanted his subjects to sit in front of a faux-natural scene. He tried using found objects and even projections before finding inspiration in the ultimate American-landscape icon — "happy little trees" painter Bob Ross.

It should be noted that Triburgo isn't a painter by trade. But he created the oil-painted landscapes using the instructions from Ross' PBS show The Joy of Painting. And a funny thing happened. "The paintings were meant to be child-like, but then I accidentally got better at it," he said.

As for his subjects, Triburgo knew it would be too intrusive to approach members of Portland's LGBT community out of the blue. Instead, he used word of mouth and waited for transgender men and women to volunteer to pose for him, which is why the project took him five years to complete. "I didn't want to pressure anyone to come out," he said. "I wanted the subjects to be invested in this idea of having a positive representation and being invested in putting a face to trans identity."

Triburgo takes care matching the person, painting, and pose. And after some gentle direction from the photographer, the subjects gaze — chin up or arms folded — out from their serene, hand-painted backdrops. The final products are bold, colorful, and witty, especially when you notice the photographs' pastoral names, like Graceful Waterfall, Tranquil Dawn, and An Arctic Winter Day.

"I wanted to say, this is a strong person and he is full of pride and courage of being out and being trans. But at the same time, isn't portraiture kind of funny, that it's even a thing."

To see more of Lorenzo Triburgo's work, including his complete Transportraits series, you can check out his website and his Facebook page.

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