C. Rose Smith

Tomboy, Paper Negatives 2017

Tomboy was created in the fall of 2017 during my last semester at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, GA. I was enrolled in a large-format photography course and my final project was an open-ended assignment. During this time, I was on the precipice of self-fashioning a masculine wardrobe and publicly expressing my sexual orientation. Upon entering into my creative process, I thought about the meaning of ‘tomboy’ in relation to my identity as well as friends and colleagues I see myself in. This led to my understanding of how clothing can be used to reveal and conceal public and private identities. Tomboy was a term used in my childhood to describe girls and young women who wore boy’s apparel or portrayed immodest, bold, and rowdy boyish behavior. In my youth, I was often referred to as a tomboy because I occasionally wore hoodies. A hoodie is an African-American term that describes a hooded pullover sweatshirt. As it conceals and darkens identity, I connected this to the fear associated with it when worn by Black males. The youthful appearance present in Black boys lends itself to me being perceived as a tomboy. Nevertheless, I wear hoodies as an adult, and this same fear is projected onto my identity.

To convey how this conversion can culminate, I selected three people from my social circle to engage with me in this topic, photographically. My participants range from Black women who are masculine-presenting to Black women with fluid presentations; all of whom have been referred to as a tomboy in childhood. With a direct gaze both unrelenting and stoic, my participants Amira, De, Myah, Ty and I emerge from the shadows of society to confront the gendered nature of tomboy. De, Amira, and I wear hoodies that disguises our femininity and foregrounds our masculinity while Ty and Myah remain revealed. Our gender becomes indiscernible and we are likely to be mistaken as Black boys or young Black men.

Using a historical alternative photographic process called paper negatives to inform the vacillating appearance of duality, the process masks and unmasks the identity of the individual in such a way that it lends itself to how we appear in the natural world while being reduced to gender in society.  The paper negative is the result of a paper positive after it is contact printed and converted. There are a total of 5 paper positives sized at 4 x 5, and 5 paper negatives sized at 8 x 10.

Tomboy, Paper Negatives 2017

In the Fall of 2020 while collaborating as an artist with The Masculinity Project through the Artists Theater of Boston in Boston, MA I revisited Tomboy. We unpacked the meaning of masculinity and how it appears in society. Each artist received a commission to produce a project that spoke to the visualization of masculinity. My interest in the screenprinting process led me to explore how this might coalesce with paper positives from my series and add to its materiality. This experimentation gave me insight into how inks on light and dark papers can create an interchangeable quality that allows for oscillation between both a negative and positive portrait. This spoke to the duality and fluidity in Tomboy.  I screen-printed three photographs, De, Ty, and Myah to create a total of nine images that are presented as triptychs. Each set is organized by dark blue, gold, and platinum inks. These colors were chosen as they are widely attributed to masculinity. Their tonality is symbolic in culture, science, and engineering.

Each print is sized at 11 x 14

Artist: C. Rose Smith

Tomboy, Gold Triptych

Tomboy (De, Ty, Myah), 2020,
Gold Triptych Screenprint on coated Stonehenge, 11 x 14

Tomboy, Silver Triptych

Tomboy (De, Ty, Myah), 2020,
Silver Triptych Screenprint on coated Stonehenge, 11 x 14

TomboyBlue Triptych

Tomboy (De, Ty, Myah), 2020,
Blue Triptych Screenprint on coated Stonehenge, 11 x 14