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March 15, 2024



Photography by Mariette Pathy Allen
Story by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico

In the realm of contemporary photography, few artists have captured the essence of human diversity and the fluidity of identity with the same depth and sensitivity as Mariette Pathy Allen. With a career spanning over five decades, Mariette has established herself as a visionary documentarian, shedding light and advocating for marginalized communities within society.

Mariette’s journey as a photographer began in the 1970s, a time marked by social upheaval and a burgeoning awareness of gender and sexual identities. It was during this period that she embarked on a mission to explore the intricate tapestry of gender expression, particularly within the transgender community — an endeavor that would become her life's work.

Mariette Pathy Allen is a photographer of transgender, genderfluid, and gender variant communities, as well as other continuous series such as Birth and Families, The Face of New Jersey, People with Art, Flowers and Fantasy, Texas, and Scapes.

In 1978, on the last day of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Mariette met a trans woman named Vicky West (although, using the language of that time, she identified as a crossdresser). Vicky befriended Mariette and invited her to Fantasia Fair, a transgender conference where Mariette would serve as the official photographer. She traveled across the US to many other transgender conferences, participated in political activism, and worked for the Transgender Tapestry magazine. She continues to pursue the work of photographing, interviewing, and advocating on behalf of gender-nonconforming people.

Through her lens, Mariette captures moments of raw authenticity, inviting viewers into the intimate lives of her subjects with empathy and respect. Her photographs serve as powerful testimonials to the resilience and beauty found in the face of societal norms and expectations. Whether documenting the joy of self-discovery, the struggles of discrimination, or the triumph of self-acceptance, Mariette’s images resonate with a universal message of humanity and belonging.

Mariette shares herself with us, her voice.

“I first encountered transgender people at Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1978. I met Vicky West and was mesmerized. I felt that I wasn't looking into the eyes of a man or a woman but at the essence of a human being. This encounter led to experiences that I could never have imagined. As a photographer, writer, speaker, activist, and ally, I could participate in the evolution of a vital movement to bring understanding and justice to nonconforming people.

Early on, anything beyond heteronormativity was considered freakish or immoral. What I saw was different and my intention became clear — to present gender-nonconforming individuals in the daylight of everyday life, alone or in relationships with friends, family, and children.

I continue to photograph this ever-changing world. My hope is that during this time of ignorance and violence, my work will move people to reconsider the prejudices that negate what is natural in a world that includes gender-expansive people.”

We asked Mariette to share one of her insightful projects with us. She has chosen exceptional work to share with us.


“Most people in Burma and Thailand are Buddhists, but there are areas in both countries where Spirit Mediums continue to perform the ancient, animist traditions and rituals that pre-date Buddhism.

Although there are differences in the traditions practiced by Spirit Mediums in Myanmar and Thailand, I have combined the images here, as my focus is on the visual mystery of Spirit Mediums when they are possessed, and when going about their daily lives. I am looking at them as human beings who have been part of their cultures for as long as Animism has existed.

In the past, most Spirit Mediums were women, but over time, more men have felt called as Spirit Mediums. Those who live as men, dress as women in colorful, flowing garments, wear make-up, headdresses, and ornate jewelry before, during, and after possession. They must adorn themselves as women for the Spirits. Others live as women full-time. They would be identified as transgender in the West.

When Mediums are possessed by a particular Spirit, they fall into a trance, and dance for many hours, drinking, smoking, accepting money from the crowd of onlookers who may join in the dance. During festivals when not dancing, Mediums sit in their beautifully decorated tents with altars covered with offerings that may include fruit, flowers, cans of beer, soda, cash, small toys, and statues. People come into the tent to get advice from the Spirit that the Medium channels.”

Mariette Pathy Allen continues to inspire generations of artists and activists alike. Her dedication to capturing the essence of human experience, in all its complexity and diversity, serves as a testament to the transformative power of art and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Through her visual storytelling, she reminds us that true beauty lies in the courage to embrace our authentic selves, unapologetically and without reservation.

In addition to her artistic contributions, Mariette has been a vocal advocate for transgender rights and visibility, using her platform to challenge stereotypes and foster understanding.

Mariette is the author of four books that have brought visibility to transgender communities across the world including Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them (1989), The Gender Frontier (2004), TransCuba (2014), and Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand (2017). She has made dozens of slide presentations to a variety of groups, participated in radio and television programs, and been a consultant and still photographer for films. Mariette’s work is included in numerous collections, both public and private, and has been exhibited internationally. Her work is being archived by Duke University's Rare Book and Manuscripts Library and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's Studies. Mariette is based in New York City and is represented by CLAMP, New York.

Mariette also shares with us a portfolio of images, spanning the globe that represents the artist's dedication to showcasing the lives of gender-nonconforming individuals that transcend the boundaries of mere representation. By conscientiously capturing these individuals in their everyday environments, the artist's goal is to illuminate the human essence that exists within each person, regardless of gender identity. Through her lens, she seeks to challenge existing prejudices and inspire a reevaluation of societal norms, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic world for all gender-expansive individuals.

The Pictorial List is incredibly thankful to Mariette Pathy Allen for sharing her inspirational photography, it shines a spotlight on her groundbreaking and exceptional work, showcasing the lives of gender-nonconforming individuals. Through her photography, Mariette captures the raw authenticity and resilience of these communities, inviting viewers into the intimate lives of her subjects with empathy and respect. Her dedication to documenting and advocating for marginalized communities, including the transgender community and gender-nonconforming individuals, has been truly impactful. Moreover, Mariette's work challenges existing prejudices and inspires a reevaluation of societal norms, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic world for all individuals. We are honored to be able to share her insightful projects, such as “Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand,” and her remarkable contributions to art and advocacy with our audience.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author/s, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.

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