Culture

Striking portraits of a trans woman ahead of gender reassignment surgery

A celebration of, both, the journey and the destination

While working together on the sets of Anurag Kashyap's 2017 film, Mukkabaaz, photographer Ajatshatru Singh and costume stylist Parineeta were introduced to each other. A year later, Singh reached out to Parineeta again, this time to ask her if she'd be open to being his subject for a series of portraits that he was looking to shoot. At the time, Parineeta was just an interesting subject. However, over many intimate conversations, the Mumbai-based photographer would learn about her gender orientation. Forthcoming and confident, Parineeta shared delicate details about her private life, including the fact that she was considering gender reassignment therapy and was in touch with doctors who would see her through the process. A documentary photographer at heart, Ajatshatru then set out to capture her story, and his initial project turned into something a lot more meaningful, more personal. The result is a photoessay, shot entirely at Parineeta's residence, Transition that captures her on the brink of gender reassignment therapy.

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We spoke to Ajatshatru Singh to find out more:

ELLE: What prompted you to tell Parineeta's story through photographs and what was the process like?

Ajatshatru Singh: I met her at her house and we started by taking a few random shots of her in the space. While that was happening, I ended up asking questions about her gender orientation as a part of our conversation, and she opened up about her gender reassignment therapy. I knew then that I wanted to visualise her story via portraits. I felt the need to make this project meaningful as I was allowed to be in such close proximity to a person who was about to undergo a life-changing process, and was open enough to show me her world.

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ELLE: Did Parineeta have any apprehensions about the shoot and going public with it, given the discrimination transgenders face in our country?

AS: No, not at all. That thought did not cross our minds even once. Parineeta is an outspoken and a fun-loving person. I think if she ever faces discrimination, she will take it head on with the aim to educate the person and help him/her understand and empathise.

ELLE: Was she camera-conscious? 

AS: Not at all! It was so much fun shooting Parineeta because she was game for anything. If I had an idea or a frame in my mind about how I wanted to capture her, she would do it and even suggest ideas on what else we could do. If I was a spectator to this shoot, I would think she has been doing this for a long time.

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ELLE: What was Parineeta's reaction when she saw the photographs?

AS: I shot all her images on film, so we couldn’t see the results right away. And since the shoot was spread over a couple of months, I didn’t process any of the rolls until the last shot was taken. Waiting for the processed images was nerve-racking because we both had no idea how they would come out. But once I showed them to Parineeta, she was ecstatic. That being the best reaction I could hope for, I was quite relieved that she liked the direction and the way I had shot her. 

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ELLE: What has been your biggest takeaway from this photoshoot? 

AS: I think that the reason discrimination happens is because of a lack of information, knowledge, understanding and empathy. When I started with this project, I was aware of the process of gender reassignment but not in detail. And post this project, because of my close proximity with Parineeta, I have not only gained a deeper sense of understanding and empathy for her, but anyone else who I might meet in the future. On top of that, my friendship with Parineeta has grown and evolved because of this project. I can’t think of a bigger takeaway than that.