The world is a loud place: Marvel Harris on photography and freedom

JULY 2018

In this photograph, you see my mother and my best friend, Mahtab, who came to visit me at the hospital. Unfortunately, the focus is not on the right spot. I forgot to take my camera off manual focus, and – I don’t even know how I managed to do that – set the ISO to automatic. The very moment was so important to me that it caused a stinging feeling at the back of my eyes when I uploaded the files to my computer and realized I had done something wrong. But then, the following day, after a good conversation with my mother, I started to like the photograph because of this reason.

I took this self-portrait about three hours after awakening from anesthesia. I had lost more blood than anticipated during surgery, so the surgery lasted longer than expected. While I was lying in my bed, I asked my mother to set up my tripod. She handed me my camera so that I could configure it properly.

“You look tired,” Mahtab said. I smiled and replied, “I can do this. It’s okay.” My mother followed my instructions, attached my camera to the tripod, and handed me my remote control. Even at this moment, I wanted to do everything by myself, instead of letting her take my picture.

Mentally I felt great; I felt so relieved, happy, and thankful for their company on this very special day. Even though I did not feel the tiredness myself, Mahtab was right: my body needed rest. Since I was still recovering from anesthesia, I was not fully aware of what I was doing, which resulted in this (flawed) photograph.

Photography became my life. It has helped me greatly to express my feelings, and to connect with the world around me, when I need it the most. Through photography, I have been able to express what is going on in my mind. Anything that touches me and is important to me makes me want to capture it in a photograph. The world is a loud place and feels overwhelming to me, but my camera helps me to deal with that.


JUNE 2019

I liked to swim and to play around with water as a kid, but because of gender dysphoria, it was something I quit doing. Last summer, feeling the water of the North Sea on my skin was already enough to create a heartfelt smile on my face. However, so shortly after top surgery, swimming didn’t feel right.

Despite being far less concerned about other people’s opinions, I still fear to be my true, authentic self. The thought that somebody might harass me because my body and ideas don’t conform to the oppressive, binary standards of society frightens me.

But with very few people around this lake close to Marville, France, it didn’t take long to feel confident enough to let go of my fears and dive underwater. I had forgotten about the calming effect swimming has on the mind. The feeling of freedom was indescribable! I smiled and continued to smile. As I floated on my back, water closed over my ears; the way I moved my arms and legs reminded me of a frog in crawling motion.

I felt reborn with the sound of tumbling water. I felt alive, and that was all that I needed.


Excerpts from Marvel Harris' texts in MARVEL.

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