These Photos Explore the Multiple Identities We Have Online and Off

Laurence Philomene used friends to express versions of their self through portraiture.

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Jun 18 2018, 1:59pm

This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.

In December 2014, at their studio in Montreal, Laurence Philomene began taking self-portraits—with other people as the subjects. Philomene, who identifies as non-binary and prefers the pronoun “they,” originally wanted to trick viewers into thinking the images were of themself, when in fact the photos were of other people posing as them. They had been receiving a lot of harassment online, particularly from men, and had been growing increasingly anxious about showing images of their own body. So much so that, in the middle of an actual self-portrait practice they had been doing for years, they shifted their focus to this new endeavor.

“A big part of this project,” Philomene says, “is its non-binary nature. Sometimes I am a woman, and sometimes I am a man. Most times, I’m neither.”

Philomene initially decided to dress up their friend Edwin as themself, in a pink tracksuit and an orange wig, obscuring his face. They liked the process, the result, the implications—how does one build a persona on the internet, how does one show a forever-shifting and evolving identity—and decided to keep going, soliciting more and more people to pose as themself. Featured here are photos of others dressed as Philomene—standing serenely in a garden of flowers, passionately kissing each other, lounging at an indoor pool.

“From a very young age, I’ve always used photography to explore myself, and this series is exactly that,” they say. “I want to keep working on this, more or less, for the rest of my life.” They hope, one day, to have as complete a catalogue as possible—“of everyone I’ve been, or everyone I could have been.”