Manchester artist wants to change the world with her book of transgender portraits

  • Manchester-based artist publishes book of transgender portraits
  • Image of trans woman Grace won the BJP Portrait of Britain 2019
  • Author sees book as political statement as well as work of art

A teacher turned award-winning artist has published a book of transgender portraits in the midst of an increasingly fractious debate about gender identity. 

You Brought Your Own Light brings together 26 images of transgender people, including a portrait of Grace, a doctor, which won the Portrait of Britain 2019 award issued by the British Journal of Photography.

Allie Crewe, who describes herself as part artist, part activist, said: “My art has meaning. It is created in a context.”

More than 41% of trans people have reported experiences of hate crime or incidents within the last 12 months according to a survey by the Stonewall Trans Report 2017.

This amounts to 82,000 to 205,000 trans people suffering from attacks because of their gender identity in the UK according to estimations of the Government Equalities Office.

Allie said: “I will not pretend that I don’t want to change the world. A lot is wrong with it.”

transgender portrait trans woman doctor Grace, picture taken by Allie Crewe
The portrait of Grace, then a medical student at MMU, won BJP Portrait of Britain 2019

The public debate about gender identity reached a new peak when the UK government dropped plans to allow people to change their gender without a medical diagnosis last week.

Bestselling author JK Rowling publicly supported the rejection of the self-identification plan and was roundly criticised by the transgender community.

Allie said of her portraits: “The interesting aspect about trans people is not how they change physically, it is the inward transition.”

The book marks a new step in her own transition as well, from teacher to photographer.

“I wanted to be an artist when I was 16, but I went into a sensible career”, she said.

After more than a decade of teaching film, media and gender in academia she decided to give her dream a shot and signed up for night classes.

She said: “I wanted to know: Do I have it in me to create something meaningful?”

Allie Crewe Manchester artist photographer of transgender portraits
Artist Allie Crewe went from teacher to award-winning photographer with her series of transgender portraits

A tutor introduced her to a trans woman called Kim. “It was one of these moments where the earth tilts on its axis and I realised: this is really interesting”, said Allie. Later she met Olivia, who sat for a portrait as well as contributing written text to the book.

Allie’s next project called ‘I Am…’ will focus on women in abusive relationships and is in partnership with the Duchess of Cornwall and her charity, SafeLives.

Allie wants to continue to tell the stories of humans going through transitions. She hopes to inspire others to pursue their dreams, especially young people.

She said: “Many students don’t have dreams. They are too anxious about jobs and paying rent.

“But you don’t have to have the perfect job at 21. There is more than one life and you have time for it.”