Q & A: Photographer with a mission


Photos submitted Ellie Howard

“Ignorance of Bliss,” featuring alumnus Sam Kendall, won a National Gold Key. Howard said, “It focuses on being closeted, especially to yourself.”

Julia Petrillo, Editorial Board

Senior Ellie Howard advocates transgender awareness through a photo project that highlights the everyday lives transgender teens, and has won Ellie a National Gold Key for excellence in photography for the photograph pictured above.

Describe your photo project.
“My independent study focuses on spreading empathy for trans people. I take primarily portraits in the trans community as one part of this. I’ve also paired this with an outreach program that focuses on providing education about trans people and advocating for change. This project is super wonderful and kind of seeps into everything else. I have a lot of talks with teachers, peers, administrators, and pretty much everyone about [transgender people]. I’ve also got tons of social media for this that’s beyond the art-specific part of my project. I read a lot of policy and current events and keep tabs on laws coming out pretty much everywhere. All of that translates into figuring out more what I want to prioritize for this outreach over all.”

gender yay Is this something you do outside of Algonquin?
“Absolutely. I take this with me pretty much wherever I go, I’m very active with this on social media. I basically can’t go two feet without running into a discussion about this. This is absolutely something I’m working on outside of school.”
What inspired you to create this?
“This is a project that was born out of necessity. Before I started this project I was so uncomfortable here and was so tired of the treatment of gender here, my only options were dropping out or being miserable. It wasn’t until Ms. Sheppard said ‘What if we addressed this through art?’ that starting and changing things even got put on the table.”
What gender do you identify as?
“I identify as non-binary. Non-Binary is kind of a huge umbrella term that means neither entirely male or female. It could be both, neither, or nothing. Gender is a really fluid thing and while most people think of it as ‘blue check box, pink check box’ it’s actually more like an entire color spectrum. If blue and pink are male and female, that doesn’t make all the other colors purple by default. Being non-binary is different for everyone and for me; it’s just easier to give myself the freedom of that than it is to take on a more specific label.
What do you hope to accomplish with your pieces? What do you want people that wouldn’t necessarily know anything about this topic to get out of it or to understand?
“I really want to generate some empathy for trans people. I want people to realize that we’re out there, and we’re pretty much normal. Ideally I’m hoping for people to get the basics, and learn how to ask questions about being trans so if or when they have a trans person in their life they can treat that person with respect.”
What kind of feedback have you received?
“I’ve received a lot of good feedback. From the other trans kids in our community, the general reaction is that they’re pretty happy that people are more aware of this. From the cisgender people in the community, the general response is that they’ve been pretty happy to learn more about things. The best reaction was at the end of a presentation someone actually raised their hand and thanked me for talking about this because they felt it had never come up. So all in all, I’m pretty much accomplishing what I wanted to.”

**See related article on Transgender Awareness “From female to male: Alex opens up about being himself