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Tuck and Roll

Tuck and Roll

by J Houston

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The photographs in Tuck and Roll by J Houston envision a utopic trans community located in the American Midwest. Existing outside of formal narratives often stereotyping the region, the portraits and domestic landscapes in the book are interwoven with hints of magical realism, and implicit connections between people and symbols.

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The photographs were primarily made between 2016 and 2021 across western Pennsylvania, Michigan, and upstate New York. J made the images with a focus on using large-format film, intending to
slow down the photographic process to give value and importance to trans portrayal across the region.

The book’s title was repurposed and reclaimed from the definition of a specific move found in a Stonewall-era policing manual. The word tucking can refer to a gender presentation tactic used by transfemme and non-binary people, drag performers, and others within the queer community. Tuck and Roll also refers to the technique of diving and rolling into a ball mid-run and then continuing on, employed to avoid obstacles and harm whilst continuing forward movement. This physical description is an effective metaphor for
the mental acts often employed by some trans individuals to world-build and fantasize within the everyday.

Echoing the title, some portraits find J's participants balancing on forearms, stretched out on various surfaces, twisting their torsos or legs; others reveal a level of trust with J through a direct gaze into their lens. Symbols appear throughout the book — golden and metallic banners, glowing yoga balls, a snake, white pointed shoes, stacked chairs that don't quite fit together — incongruously found in
domestic or natural settings. J balances other symbols precariously, mimicking the portraits to highlight the perceived and created magical elements of the mundane.

‘Aspects typically associated with drag and queer nightlife are really beautiful: heavy makeup, sheer fabrics, shiny fringe,wigs, sparkling jewelry, long curtains. I’ve been interested in how pulling them out of thatenvironment and twisting them into the sometimes quieter work I’m making around the
trans community can reclaim and repurpose the fetishization many experience. How is onstage performance facing an audience different
from the constant series of micro and grand performances between just me and the person allowing me to make images of them, if at all? How much does my lens change this when performance can of course still be vulnerable in any context? The answers to those questions vary as we aren’t a monolith, but that’s essentially what I’m thinking about when I sequence down from the large pool of (sometimes visually disparate) images made in many different towns over six of the years I was initially learning to photograph.’

Published October 2023
200x256 mm portrait
128pp, 60 images
ISBN 978-1-910401-97-2

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  • J Houston was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with focus in studio art and gender theory. They have since been an artist-in-residence at Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts' Robert Blackburn Printmaking Shop, Otis College of Art and Design, The Growlery, Elizabeth Murray Foundation, and Vermont Studio Center and have received grants from Adobe, Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Brooklyn Arts Council, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, Silver Eye Center for Photography, and Carnegie Mellon University. J's images focusing around the trans community have been a finalist for Duke CDS Essay Prize and the Robert Giard Grant and have won the Silver Eye Center's Keystone Fellowship, Wellcome Photo Prize, and a place on the 2022 Silver List. Their work has been exhibited at Houston Center for Photography, Turner Contemporary, Collar Works, Amos Eno Gallery, Transmitter Gallery, CONTACT Gallery, Miller Institute of Contemporary Art, Siena Heights University, Silver Eye Center for Photography, and published in Washington Post Magazine, W Magazine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette amongst others. J currently lives and makes work in NYC.

  • Often using my closest friends and transsiblings as stand-ins for biological family, these images manifest a desire to have unconditional relationships without letting go of the landscape I grew up in.’

    - J Houston