American gender theorist Judith Butler is generally renowned as not being the easiest read. But that didn't stop Berlin-based photographer Guido Castagnoli from using the queer theory pioneer's work as a jumping-off point for his recent image series Bodies That Matter.
The body of work takes its title directly from Butler's 1993 book Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. The author challenges conventional notions of gender and develops their theory of gender performativity from the 1990s Gender Trouble.
As such, Castagnoli's photographic work "explores the in-betweens of gender" through a portrait series that examines Butler's ideas around gender being "determined by a reiteration of norms," as the artist puts it. "Rather than being something that one is, it is something one does – an act, or more precisely, a sequence of acts. A verb rather than a noun."
Castagnoli found his subjects by reaching out to members of Berlin's LGBTQ+ community through social media with a casting call to photograph strangers. Using a large-format camera, each portrait was limited to two images.
This presented a challenge of its own, outside of the complexities of critical theory, post-structuralism et al., since it "needed an intense moment of stillness from the subject, allowing for no margin of error," says Castagnoli. "The final image records a process of a moment of discovering a stranger. The result is an intensity that has surfaced between the photographer and the subject."
The Bodies That Matter project has acted as a springboard for two further bodies of work for Castagnoli: TechnoBodies, documenting Berlin's club kids, and SexBodies.
SexBodies examines the idea of sexuality as a fundamental form of personal expression. Contrary to what the name might suggest, the series "is not interested in sex per se, and does not focus on the carnal conception of physical bodies." Instead, it's about the removal of stigma and stereotypes surrounding sexuality.