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Arts & Culture

Finding Identity Without Gender: A Queer Photographer's Journey

Ally Schmaling wants a "complete annihilation of gender."

The Boston-based queer and gender nonbinary photographer created a portrait series exploring queer and nonbinary identities — people living without limits and refusing to identify with traditional male and female gender labels.

"It's our job to push institutions forward and create art that reflects the world we want to see," Schmaling says.


In making the series, Schmaling allows the people being photographed to drive the decisions about their bodies in frame. The photographer asks the subjects how they would like to be seen. "The process is just as beautiful as the product," Schmaling says.

Schmaling, who uses the pronoun "they," began their career as a wedding photographer after college. Taking pictures at weddings "taught me the ability to spot a tiny pinpoint of joy from across the room," they say.

After a few years in the industry, Schmaling decided to try portraiture. Schmaling says spending the past year and a half doing portrait photography gave them the creative freedom and agency they were craving.

Schmaling says they've struggled with body dysmorphia, gender and sexuality. They turned to art with a focus on body positivity and gender fluidity. Schmaling's work encourages all to play freely in an inclusive space.

The photographer grew up in rural Wisconsin, but found it too homogeneous. Schmaling found peace with their sexuality by refusing to conform, saying: "If there is not space for you, make space."


Now Schmaling lives in Boston, saying that's where this type of art is needed. "Unlike places like New York or LA or whatever, where a lot of these creative pathways have already been built, Boston is still more or less a blank canvas." They plan to continue building a creative scene in the city.

Schmaling's only definite plan for the future is that it will involve a dog. For now, they're happy allowing their job to consist of "screaming affirmations at strangers."

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