Saturday, February 25, 2012

The buy-in, the switch and the wardrobe

The self-taught photographer Hana Pesut has launched a compelling project called Switcheroo, in which couples trade their clothes for before and after pictures. Above: Leila and Azim. Below: Jillian and Andrew.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 24, 2012

Jasmine wore sandals, a silky white T-shirt over black leggings, and a cropped denim jacket. Erik wore marigold sneakers, grey sweatpants, and a baggy black T-shirt. His long hair was tucked into a black-and-gold toque, an anomaly on a warm, sunny day.

The amateur models dressed in their own clothes, an everyday wardrobe for life on the West Coast.

They posed at Prospect Point in Stanley Park with the North Shore mountains as a backdrop. Hana Pesut, a self-taught photographer, captured their image with her trusty Hasselblad.

As the shoot progressed, a bus pulled up, tourists armed with their own cameras snapping the couple, as well as the scenic backdrop.

Then, the models began to undress.

Erik let his hair down, pulled his T-shirt off, unlaced his sneakers, dropped the sweatpants.

Jasmine disrobed as discreetly as was possible under the unblinking eye of a busload of camera-toting tourists.

She handed him her clothes. He handed her his.

Erik looked a bit Fabio with his hair blowing in the breeze. Jasmine looked like a 12-year-old boy.

They were photographed by Ms. Pesut as part of a project she calls Switcheroo. She takes before-and-after images of couples she asks to cross-dress in public places around Vancouver.

“It’s a nice way to take a portrait and to see the way couples interact with one another,” she said. “To see how much fun it is for them to see each other in each other’s clothes.”

The images, posted on her Sincerely Hana website, are causing an online rumble, as the images can be goofy, startling, and hilarious.

In most cases, the women pull it off.

In some cases, the men look ridiculous.

Sometimes, you hardly notice a difference.

“A couple of guys have not liked it. They act like their girlfriend tricked them into doing it,” the photographer said. “Others are good sports. They know they look funny. It’s all just for fun.”

One can make grand pronouncements about gender and identity from the images, but the photographer’s intent is not to make any specific statement at all.

“I like letting people interpret it in their own way,” she said.

One of the more intriguing critiques has come from a site dedicated to male cross-dressers. They expressed dissatisfaction with the wardrobe choices of her models.

Her couples mix and match skirts and jeans, summer dresses and trench coats, trucker caps and straw hats, camouflage jackets and pea coats, pendants and bow ties, flip flops and assault boots.

The idea first came to her while on a camping trip with two friends. One was wearing tie-dyed clothes with sequins, while the other was wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt. “They thought it would be funny if they switched outfits,” she said.

“Right after that I started obsessing with it. I would see people walking together and I began to think what they would look like in each other’s clothes.”

For Switcheroo, Ms. Pesut shoots film, using natural light in a natural setting, often near a couple’s residence to facilitate a private wardrobe switch,

The 30-year-old photographer works as a deejay and handles social media for a company in the entertainment business. She grew up in Whistler, playing point guard for her high school and college basketball teams.

She learned the sport from her father, a man she knew as Steve Tanaka. A decade ago, he was arrested in Vancouver after 30 years as a fugitive following a conviction in Illinois for cocaine trafficking. He skipped bond, fleeing to Europe before eventually landing in Canada, where he took his mother’s maiden name as his own. Steve Iwami has since completed his sentence and now lives in the Seattle area.

“I went quickly from being dependent on my dad to helping him out and taking care of him,” she said.

The secret was a great burden on him, she said.

“I’m happy for my dad that he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. He can be more honest and open with me now.”

For the first 20 years of her life, her father toyed with identity and disguise, the very elements that make Switcheroo so compelling a project.

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