Salgu Wissmath (they/them/theirs) is a nonbinary photographer based in Sacramento, California. They are dedicated to decolonizing the field of photography by focusing on stories by and for people of color and the queer community. Their personal work explores the intersections of mental health, queer identity, and faith from a conceptual documentary approach. Salgu recently completed a Masters of Photography at Ohio University and is currently freelancing for editorial publications and nonprofits in Northern California.
Salgu frequently contributes to The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle. Their past editorial work has also been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, NPR, Education Weekly, Pacific Standard, HuffPost, among others. They have also photographed and filmed videos for various non-profits such as Clara's House, Sacramento LGBT Community Center, New Avenues for Youth, and All Hands and Hearts- Smart Response.
Inspired by the artist’s own journey as a nonbinary trans person, “Documenting Dysphoria” is a series of illustrative portraits that explores what gender dysphoria feels like. These images are intended to affirm and offer visibility to the trans and nonbinary experience from a queer lens. First and foremost, this project is for the trans* community. For us to hear and see fellow trans people’s stories. For us to recognize parts of ourselves in the experiences of others. Ultimately it is to empower us to embrace our own skin.
Gender dysphoria can be described as the distress a person experiences as a result of the disconnect between their internal gender identity and the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. It is this experience which often allows trans people to come to understand their own identity. Despite this importance, gender dysphoria is sorely misunderstood by society. These days there is increasing awareness of transgender identies, but due to this continued misunderstanding and lack of acceptance, trans individuals face high rates of suicide, discrimination, and barriers to health care. Hopefully, this project can also increase understanding of the trans experience among the general public.
This project purposefully takes a very collaborative approach with the participants to ensure that the stories of these transgender individuals are accurately heard and portrayed. Interviews inform the creative direction of the environmental portraits, which are taken with a simple off-camera speedlight set up. The final images will be presented alongside excerpts drawn from these conversations. Each photograph is a literal or metaphorical representation of that individual’s feelings of dysphoria. Everyone experiences gender dysphoria differently and to different degrees. This project seeks to show the diversity of experiences of both gender dysphoria and the gender spectrum.
Salgu is the best person to tell this story because it is also their own. Growing up they didn’t know what gender dysphoria was. Watching nonbinary folks come out on YouTube helped them figure out their own identity. They hope fellow LGBTQ+, trans, nonbinary, and questioning folks can see themselves reflected in this project.
*Note: Some folks who experience gender dysphoria may not identify under the transgender umbrella category, or may have other gender identities not mentioned in this project summary.
To view more of Salgu Wissmath’s work please visit their website.