When you look at the images from Jon Lee’s “Narcissus,” you see at first glance is a beautiful woman and an equally attractive man. What you don’t see is a reason to name the cute couple shoot after a mythological character so vain he fell in love with his own reflection. That is, until you read that the Australian-based photographer created these images with not only this legend as inspiration, but also the concept of exploring gender ambiguity. Using gender fluid model Dylan Peck, Lee plays on the typical engagement photoshoots we’ve all seen, by having Peck play both the male and female parts, which resulted in a photo series that shows how one person can have indefinite gender lines.
Lee states, “So just as most individuals have both male and female characteristics, so too does our main character, who falls in love with himself, unsure whether he is a man falling in love with his feminine self or a woman falling in love with her masculine self.”
To edit the photographs in a way that allowed the characters to interact physically, Lee had to duplicate angles, poses and lighting in each shot. “Technically this was quite a challenge,” said Jon Lee, who had to use both himself and stylist Kristina Shapova as stand-ins before the images were composited in post-production.
First, can you tell me about your modeling career? Where have you been published? What contests/awards have you run? Have you received any training in the subject?
Wow, where do I start? I started modeling and getting serious about my career about 5 years ago now. I’ve been published in several international magazines and several places online. To name a few: Damned Magazine, Fjorde Magazine, Dark beauty, Pitch Zine.
Funny you ask about training or even a qualification because some people don’t recognize it or believe it’s possible. It is, if you go to the right place and they’re not about your money, but actually your career, you’ll have a school that sticks by you and is always there. Saying that, I have received training, but it wasn’t until already a few years into my career, not because I had doubt or because I needed to, per say, but I was offered the chance and I thought, “why not?” And I learned so much that I didn’t even know, which (knowledge) I use with every shoot or creative I come across. Thanks to Kristina & Nicole of The Australian Academy Of Modeling, I now hold an advanced diploma in modeling. And I’ve received a few awards in hair competitions such as Australia’s Blonde Bombshell.
One of the negative stigmas that follow modeling is that models are “stupid” or that the job is “easy”, what do you have to say about that?
Stupid? Hah, no way! You’ll always find most models have businesses under their belts while running a modeling career, or will be studying something that surprises you. Models are not dumb. We’re a creative mind that’s full of ideas. You never know where you’ll end up, so it’s not an easy job either! You could be shooting in the middle of Abu Dubai in severe heat, or like myself have to swim in the ocean at 6am to get the shot that’s wanted! It’s definitely not always an easy job.
Every once and in a while you hear about a new model who gets put in an unsafe environment by a photographer or who get taken advantage of. What advice do you have for new models to avoid that?
SEARCH SEARCH SEARCH! I can’t stress this enough to anyone thinking of getting into the field or who is just starting out.
Whenever you’re approached by anyone, do some research and ask other models or creatives, have you heard of this person, do you know how they work”ect. And never send candid self-portraits, if requested, to some dodgy mobile number. If someone requests a meeting you can always take a friend or family member. If you happen to be going out on a big location shoot, let a few people know where you are going and the names of the people (photographer, makeup artist, ect). Or if there’s that much of a trust issue, rethink what you may be getting into, but always do your research, even if you think it’s some big famous company or person. It’s not hard to fake these days, sadly!
Do you identify as being gender-fluid? Can you tell me more about that and what it means to you?
Yeah, I guess I am, if you’d like to put it into a category or stereotype. I guess you could say it’s just having more than one gender overlapping from one to the other. I just prefer to say, “I’m Dylan,” I like to use my natural beauty and looks to my advantage. I’m unique.
What suggestions do you have for individuals with non-binary gender identities who are mistaken for other genders?
Just bring it straight up and stop them in a kindly manner. State what you believe in and who you are.
Have you ever had someone react negatively to your appearance in either a professional or social setting? If so, would you mind sharing the experience?
I have people say things like “what the F is that” and, “is that a girl or boy”, but nothing too harsh. I just reply kindly and thank them for their time on my post.
Do you think non-binary gender identities are represented fairly in the modeling industry? If not, how could this be remedied?
It’s slowly becoming more recognized and accepted, which is an amazing step forward in the fashion industry, so I’m looking forward to see what lies ahead!
What suggestions do you have for models with non-binary gender identities?
Be who you are and don’t let anyone tell you different and keep pushing and working for what you believe in!
Who are your modeling inspirations?
Of course, the gorgeous Andreja Pejic, who recently departed ways with our Aussie shores after living here. I also love to read up on Marilyn Monroe, she’s a very big favourite. Also, Miranda Kerr and Stefania Ferrario.
What is one thing you wish everyone knew about the modeling industry?
That it’s hard work, not easy and not all us models are divas. That’s one thing people seem to think, that we’re all divas. And you need to work very hard for what you want! I’ve been a freelancer my whole career and have worked very hard to get where I am.
Although Peck represents a community of models working to change gender binaries in the art world, they are unfortunately still part of a minority. Artists like Lee and Peck have an opportunity to show the rest of the world there’s a market and audience that’s ready for gender inclusivity. As art consumers and appreciators, we also have the power to support these great peoples’ work.
Photography, Concept, Post Production: Jon Lee
Model: Dylan Peck as both Male & Female models
Makeup/Hair: Leesy Cherie
Stylist: Kristina Shapova & Jon Lee
First featured in Fjorde Magazine Issue XV