Butches on bus shelters

SD Holman's project showcases women out of the mainstream

Most artists work to get their art into the galleries, but SD Holman is currently taking hers as far from that world as possible. The photo-based artist will have a show opening at The Cultch next month, but before the pictures make it to the gallery walls, they will adorn bus shelters throughout the city.

The project, a series of 81 look-you-in-the-eye portraits, is titled Butch: Not Like the Other Girls, and when Holman approached the city about putting 20 of the images in bus shelters, officials jumped at the idea.

While Holman has a strong following in the queer community, for this project she says she’s more concerned about reaching an audience that isn’t typically exposed to images of queer identities, and that means getting them out into the world.

She wants to show straight society, in particular, that women exist outside the culture’s narrow definition of what it means to be female.

“We’re so maligned in society, women who are masculine, who look like men. I was never considered hot until I came out as a butch. I was this ugly, fat girl,” Holman says.

The aim of the project is twofold. First, Holman wants the photos to serve as a mirror to people who are often left out of mainstream ideas about gender.

“We have so few things in the world that say, ‘Oh, there I am.’ Because we look at magazines, we look at everything in the world and think, that’s not me.”

The second part of Holman’s goal is to push beyond simple representation into celebration.

“I’ve had people come into my sessions feeling, ‘I’m not butch enough’ and feeling all in, and they came out feeling really good about themselves, and that’s what I want,” she says. “I want them to be sexy. They’re sexy pictures.”

The series has been a long time in the making; it was begun four years ago when Holman’s wife, Catherine, was still alive. Holman says Catherine was the world’s biggest fan of butches. When she died three years ago, Holman says, the project fell apart. But with some encouragement from a friend, she decided to finish it.

“I’m continuing for Catherine, and Catherine’s name and memory, and that’s what I had in mind when I was shooting butches.”

Holman has yet to add a self-portrait to the collection of photographs, something she does with every project. She does it to situate herself as one of her subjects, rather than as an objective observer.


“I don’t believe in the objective. We always bring something to it. We bring whatever our preconceived notions are. I don’t believe in the perfect moment. I believe we’re a bunch of messy, imperfect moments.”

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Culture, Arts, Vancouver

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