New Yorkers can get a behind-the-scenes look at Israel’s first-ever transgender beauty pageant as part of Brooklyn’s annual “pop-up” photography festival.
Oded Balilty, who nabbed a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2007, is bringing his colorful series, “Miss Trans Israel,” to Photoville, which opens Sept. 21 at the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza. Balilty’s photographs feature each of the 12 Miss Trans Israel contestants, who participated in a swimsuit competition, two formalwear competitions and a question-and-answer segment as part of the pageant, held May 27 in Tel Aviv.
The 37-year-old photographer, who has been working for the Associated Press since 2003, told The Huffington Post that he received “complete access” to all 12 women, including the winner, Ta’alin Abu Hanna.
“I feel it is our job as photographers to open the windows to the world, and also the Israeli community,” Balilty said. Noting that he rarely encountered trans people on the street, he added, “There are many parts of Israel that are very religious, and are against this way of life and the only way for them to experience the community is through my pictures.”
Although Israel continues to be fraught with religious and political turmoil, Balilty said each of the contestants were able to “look beyond ethnic barriers” as they aimed for pageant glory.
“Some of them are Jews, some Muslim and others Christian. They all know each other because they belong to this small community,” he said. “They don’t care about the ethnic groups they come from. They don’t care about the conflict around them ― they just live their life.”
The photographer hopes that, in some small way, his Photoville exhibit inspires visitors to “look beyond the pictures” and to understand that the transgender women in the series just “want to live their lives and do normal things.”
“This was an opportunity to go inside this hidden community and more importantly, to show others,” he said, adding. “I never call my job work because, for me, it is very enjoyable.”
Balilty’s photo series is not the only exhibit with a queer focus at Photoville, which is now in its fifth year. Photographer Wayne Lawrence’s #OrlandoStrong series for National Geographic, which captured the LGBT and Latino communities in Orlando, Florida, following the June 12 shooting at the city’s Pulse nightclub, will also be featured at the festival.
Head here for more information on Photoville, which runs from Sept. 21-25.