Blurred gender is in focus in Seliger’s Christopher St. photos

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A female-to-male transgender man on Christopher St. Photo by Mark Seliger

BY BOB KRASNER | Mark Seliger has been on assignments around the world, photographing more boldfaced names than he can remember. But his latest portrait project couldn’t be further away from his usual fare, or closer to home. The award-winning celebrity lensman has shot Obama, Kardashian, Dylan, Springsteen, Schumer, Cobain, Roberts, DiCaprio — and the list goes on — for Rolling Stone, Vogue, L’Oumo Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Details — that list goes on, too.

For the last three years, though, he’s been spending some serious time on Christopher St., just around the corner from his home and studio, putting images of the transgender population onto film.

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The freewheelin’ Mark Seliger on Christopher St. with his 1962 Ford F100. It has all original parts, except for the power steering. “This car makes people smile,” he said. Photo by Bob Krasner

Seliger has lived and worked on Charles St. since 1997, five years after he began his 10-year run as chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. Things were always changing in his neighborhood, but he began to notice one thing in particular.

“There was always this kind of theater around Christopher St. — working girls, all kinds of people early in the morning — and it was starting to disappear,” he said.

Once he decided that he had the “chutzpah and ambition” to start approaching people in the street, he grabbed his Hasselblad, film and an assistant and began.

“People said yes right off the bat,” he said.

And as the project progressed, they rarely said no.

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A transgender man, left, with a transgender woman, right. Photo by Mark Seliger

“I think that a lot of the people had not been seen in their new identity, their chosen gender, and it was exciting for them,” he said.

While the most visible transgender icons are male to female, about half of Seliger’s subjects have transitioned from female to male.

“Trans guys are harder to spot,” he noted. “They are more subtle, more low-key in terms of their transitioning.”

Sometimes the subjects only gave him a minute. But others spent some time to pose and then explain their situation, and some were later interviewed for a short video on the project.

“Everybody was extremely articulate about who they were,” Seliger said. “It opened my eyes to understand the journey of trans people — it’s not an easy world. I picked up how difficult it was.”

His subjects varied widely but all felt the gravitational pull of the famous Village street.

“They ran the gamut of social and economic levels, from marginal to fairly affluent,” he said. While many were locals, some were just visiting, making Christopher St. a kind of mecca. “It’s like the Ellis Island of gender diversity.”

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Mark Seliger in his Charles St. studio beneath a gallery of his photo portraits of Christopher St.’s transgender denizens. These shots are being edited for his upcoming L.A. show. Photo by Bob Krasner

Seliger came to New York from the suburbs of Texas, looking for the excitement and variety of a city that he sees as a “bunch of beautiful small towns.” His adopted town, the West Village, has seen a lot of change since he moved in.

“I understand the gentrification,” he said, “but the West Village used to exist on so many levels. The diversity of art, religion, colors was a great part of New York. It hasn’t disappeared, but it’s diminished and I miss the authenticity. This neighborhood has changed dramatically in three years. Part of my message is to protect your neighborhood and keep it safe for everybody.”

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A transgender woman in the Village. Photo by Mark Seliger

Another theme in the work is honesty. Although it’s probably impossible to be objective when you make a portrait, he approached his subjects as straightforwardly as he could.

“The honesty of the images was a serious aspect,” he said. “These people are honest with themselves and the people around them. After 28 years of taking pictures, I was able to take everything I had learned and put it into this project.”

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A female-to-male transgender Christopher St. resident and football fan chilling at home. Photo by Mark Seliger

The resulting images are direct and nonjudgmental, due to the photographer’s openness and general philosophy.

“Humanity is humanity,” he stated, “and photography is a paintbrush that allows you to capture a period of time. I’m not writing what the story is. I’m just documenting the time. You look at the pictures and draw your own conclusions.”

“On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories” runs through Jan. 7 at 231 Projects Gallery, 231 Tenth Ave. The book of the same name is also available. Seliger has an upcoming show in Los Angeles at Von Lintel Gallery, 2685 La Cienega Blvd, from Jan. 14 to Feb. 25. For more information, visit markseliger.com .

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