By B. Root
This month, TANK Space at Spring Street Studios is presenting Dear Lieutenant Governor, “We’re Just People,” a new photographic exhibition by Gary Watson. The exhibit consists of 19 black-and-white silver-gelatin prints of Houston transwoman Alexis Hollada. Watson took the portraits of Hollada over the course of several months, and each photograph has accompanying text pulled from an interview the artist did with the subject. The photos and captions tell Hollada’s story in her own words—from her youth to her growing self-awareness and her experiences as she made her transition, as well as her desire to support others during their transitions.
Watson came into contact with Hollada through a mutual friend after mentioning the idea of creating a project around the issues trans people face, particularly in Texas. “When I read about Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s intention to make a so-called ‘bathroom bill’ a high priority in the current legislative session in Texas, I felt compelled as an artist to explore the subject,” Watson writes. “The bill seems very divisive and aimed squarely against the transgender community.” After Watson described his plans for a photo exhibit and took Hollada to visit his studio to see his other work, she agreed to participate in the project. “While I understood the transgender issue from an intellectual level, I wanted to understand it on a human level. I wanted to tell a story about a human being, rather than dealing with the transgender topic as an abstract concept. When I first spoke with Alexis, I told her that I was approaching this project as an opportunity to learn, and then in turn to share what I had learned from her.”
Watson believes the title of his exhibit, “We’re Just People,” describes his concept using three simple words that Hollada shared with him. “I added the ‘Dear Lieutenant Governor’ portion for this particular exhibition, given the timing of the show with the convening of the Texas Legislature.”
“There are so many transgender people who don’t live it 24/7,” Hollada stated during the interview. “[They] are scared because of bigotry, hate, and prejudices against them, so they have to live closeted. As soon as they walk through that door into their homes, maybe that’s a safe spot for them. [But if their] family doesn’t accept them, they still have to hide it there, and they’re in a spot where they can only be themselves with a group of friends who know and understand. Or they may not even have that, and they’re just having to live with this all by themselves.”
Watson believes that people sometimes fear what they don’t understand, and that there are people with an agenda who will gladly feed that fear with misinformation. “I think if one is willing to learn about something, then one will gain understanding. And once one understands, there is the opportunity for respect. I am grateful to Alexis for sharing her story with me. As a result, I have a greater understanding of the transgender community and its issues. I hope that those who see this exhibition will better understand that there are many ways to be human.”
As Hollada puts it, “We’re just people. We just wanna live life day to day, like everyone else does—[to] have freedom and respect from other people, just like we want to give to them. I don’t want anything super-special. Most of us just want that day-to-day, you know, where I can go to a job and not worry about being fired—or about not getting hired simply because you’re trans. [We just want] to be loved by our families and our friends, and love our families and our friends in return.”
Dear Lieutenant Governor, “We’re Just People” will be on display until February 18.