Continuing our conversations with this year’s Emerging Talent award recipients, this week we talked with Corinna Kern, a German-born photographer now living in South Africa. In 2013, she received a Masters’ in photojournalism from the University of Westminster in London, where she focused on stories about alternative lifestyles from an insider’s perspective. Her candid images give intimate insight into peoples’ lives on the fringes of society. Below is an excerpt of our interview; read the rest on the Getty Images Stories & Trends blog.
Q) You’re currently working on a story about transgender women in South Africa. What sparked your interest in this topic and what do you hope your photographs will convey about the transgender experience in this country?
A) I have been interested in non-conforming gender and gender expression for many years. Coming from a background in which people take their gender and sexual orientation for granted, I have been looking to explore the realities of LGBTI people subjected to discrimination and violence, which is particularly prevalent in communities of color. Initially I was considering going to places like Uganda where a new anti-gay bill was passed end of 2013, rendering repeated homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. However, when I learned about the challenges LGBTI people are facing in liberal South Africa, despite a constitution being one of the most progressive in the world, this topic became more interesting and relevant to me. Institutionalized homophobia and gender-based violence are common phenomenon contradicting a constitution that outlaws discrimination based on gender, sex or sexual orientation while legalizing same-sex marriages. Especially in townships and rural areas individuals are often forced to perform their gender according to the hetero-patriarchal notions entrenched in African culture. With my photographs I aim to convey gender as an ambiguous and fluid concept opposing the traditional gender binary. By contravening stereotypical gender roles and expressions I intend to challenge the hetero-patriarchal and prejudiced notions on gender, inspiring a shift towards an open-minded view on what African gender identity can be as opposed to what society demands it to be. By sharing individuals’ experiences, I intend to raise awareness about the discrepancy between South Africa’s official acceptance of transgenderism and the unofficial reality shaped by discrimination and persecution. So far I have been working together with a NGO called S.H.E. (Social, Health And Empowerment Feminist Collective Of Transgender And Intersex Women Of Africa) that operates in East London.
Q) When did you arrive in South Africa and how have you found working there as a journalist, compared to England, where you studied, or Germany, your home country? What have been the primary challenges in working on your transgender story?
A) When I arrived in South Africa end of May 2014, the primary challenge until now has been the safety issues involved in my work as a photojournalist. Coming from Europe where I was used to work independently and without constraints, I often feel very restricted in South Africa as I cannot just go out wherever and whenever I want, especially since carrying equipment. Particularly in townships and rural areas that my project focuses on, crime rates are high and as a white person I am standing out. Hence, I make sure that someone living in the area I photograph accompanies me. As I prefer to have as few people as possible accompanying me in order to keep all situations as real and uninfluenced as possible, I usually stick to the individuals that I photograph. At first glance it may appear a bit worrying walking as a white person together with a transgender person through a township. However, we make sure that we stay in the communities in which the individuals are widely accepted. Moreover, language barriers are a challenge since in the rural areas and townships people speak Xhosa and many of them little English. Especially when people in communities are talking amongst themselves I often do not understand their conversations, which makes it difficult for me to integrate.
Read the full interview on the Getty Images Stories & Trends blog. You can also read last week’s interview with Emerging Talent Alejandro Cegarra of Venezuela.