Corinna Kern is a German photojournalist and social documentarian based in Israel. Kern’s work most often documents subjects at the fringes of society, capturing the humanity behind nonconformism and challenging pre-conceived notions. Her photos have exhibited at festivals worldwide, and Kern has gained recognition through her participation in major photography contests as well as publications such as TIME, Marie Claire and Esquire. The winner of Finland’s Backlight Photo Festival’s portfolio review in 2014, Kern’s newest series, Female Maskers, will be featured at the festival this fall as part of the Portfolio Awards exhibition.
The alter ego of Christian, a heterosexual male, Chrissie Seams has been part of the female masking scene for more than 20 years. She describes herself as a fun-loving and naughty young girl who loves latex fashion. Chrissie is one of the more well-known figures in the female masking scene. While the majority of female maskers practice in private, Chrissie appears frequently in public and has developed a social media following as an inspirational personality.
German photojournalist Corinna Kern is interested in the fringe groups of society, those outside the Westernized norm. Her subjects are often marginalized in view of their faith, lifestyle, skin color or sexual orientation, and Kern tells their stories through portraits rich with personal elements and environment. The photographs are as deeply affecting as they are remarkable—conveying the trust and friendship between Kern and her subjects and her unique understanding of their precarious place in society. Take, for example, her past work ranging from South Africa, where she profiled traditional healers, racial groups, rastafarians and LGBTQ youth, to London, where she lived with hoarders and squatters, to her current home of Israel, where she delves into religious sects as well as the state military.
In her newest portrait series, Kern reveals the primarily underground world of female maskers in her native Germany. According to Kern, the scene is rooted “in the idea that every person contains parts of both genders” and allows men (and women) to explore their female side by wearing a latex mask and dressing up as an alter-ego. This performance often happens in private, but Corinna’s subject Chrissie Seams now operates in public, on Facebook and on the street. Chrissie is the alter-ego of Christian, a heterosexual who has been part of the female masking scene for over 20 years and appears in Kern’s portrait series. Christian talks to Corinna about her latest photo series, and she interviews him about his history with latex and how he’s incorporated Chrissie into his life.
CHRISTIAN TO CORINNA
Christian: Where are you from?
Corinna Kern: I was born in Cologne, Germany, but I’ve lived out of the country for the last five years.
“Once my subject was wearing the mask,
it felt like there was a
different person standing in front of me.”
— Corinna Kern
C: When did you start taking photographs?
CK: My first experience with professional photography was as a 19-year-old student. It became my primary personal interest when I began engaging with portrait photography, while I was a video editor at a major TV station in my hometown. In 2012, I studied photojournalism at the University of Westminster in London, and I’ve pursued it ever since. My projects motivate me to gain access to unique and unusual corners of life. Experiencing these first-hand allows me, in turn, to capture intimate and extraordinary shots. These two aspects—immersing myself in a lifestyle or culture and at the same time documenting it—cohere and reinforce each other.
C: How would you describe your photographic style?
CK: Candid, intimate, bold.
C: Tell me a bit about your subjects in this body of work.
CK: Female masking is rooted in the idea that every person contains parts of both genders. It’s an outlet for those desiring to slip into a female role or to experience their female side in an anonymous way. It’s also an opportunity to counter the roles imposed by society, for example not having to be the strong and tough man. Others desire to be as sexy as a woman and want to experience the recognition and attention a woman receives when wearing a beautiful dress and interacting with her girlfriends.
For transgender women the motivations are similar: female masking allows them to live out a deeper part of their identity and can bring them closer to their ideal of femininity or create an illusion of who they aspire to be.