“Relationship” | RHYS ERNST
In the digital age, photographs of past relationships can be uncomfortable. Lingering LA TIMES: Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, from many angles. October. Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst: Post / Relationship / X, gained public attention and fanfare at the Whitney Biennial, where they premiered Relationship. The photos Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst took of each other showed a perched on stools to discuss their new book of photographs, “Relationship. . Drucker was among the trans women hired to help Caitlyn Jenner.
I saw down with Drucker to discuss Relationship, photography as an art form, and the difficult balance of being both an artist and an activist. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. At the time Rhys and I met, we were both starting to transition, which is such a vulnerable period for anybody. You're an adult and your body is going through a second puberty. I think that had something to do with it—not feeling compelled to share immediately because it was a sensitive, awkward time.
But after time had passed and we had amassed this collection of images, we realized it was this incredible archive, and there were so many images, such a variety of experiences and moods and times in our lives, that we began to see the overall journey. The series basically takes place in the house that we were living in, which was a world that we had constructed together. So even if one of us was out of town and the other took a self-portrait or something, it was considered fair game.
It was so interesting because the film that we made, She Gone Rogue [which was also featured in the Whitney Biennial], was a piece that we put a year of blood, sweat, and tears into, and we still consider it such a masterful work in many ways.
The photo diary of a trans couple transitioning together | Dazed
And the photographs were so easy: They were just what was happening. They were our daily lives, and it felt, for us, too easy to be work, to be art.
But anybody walking by a set of documentary photographs has 90 seconds to absorb the content. It wasn't complicated by language or the person speaking back to you, so it reached more people. Do any of those analogies speak to you? I'm sure there are common denominators.
I think Nan Goldin loved people through her photographs, and the love that Rhys and I were sharing is communicated through our photographs really effectively. I have a very traditional photography background, but I think Relationship is more influenced by filmmaking and by narrative.
We certainly edited it as a photo project and as a book, with a narrative arc. We were really thinking about how to construct this story, not necessarily in a linear way, but in an abstract way.
It's loosely chronological, but there are many times that the sequencing falls out of that chronology Before this project, I was always taking photographs as a documentation of performance.
Relationship is a life performance. So I think elements of other mediums and performativities are infused in the photographs. Did you feel that way?
The photo diary of a trans couple transitioning together
In many ways, transgender people who have transitioned have a similar relationship with images of ourselves before and during transition — they present back to us another relationship that has irrevocably changed — that with our bodies and the world. Much like a past relationship, images of transition can be affirming to some and painful to others.
The former couple documented the intimacy of their personal relationship and daily lives for six years from until What is, perhaps, notable to many observers is the fact that Zackary is a trans woman and Rhys is a trans man and both were transitioning in the same period the photographs were taken.
Though the two are no longer in a romantic couple, they continue to collaborate on a number of projects.
We caught up with them to discuss the launch of the book. When you began documenting your lives, your relationship and your transitions — how conscious were you that it would ever be seen by an audience? We always preface discussing this work by saying that from to we never thought it would be seen by anyone. No one ever saw the images.
It began as a completely private document — a visual diary just for us. We never showed the images on social media, either. How soon into your relationship did you start this process of taking photographs of your lives?
It was right at the beginning of our relationship.