May 2017

Trans/Tender

Text: Gabriel Knowles Images: Billy Maynard

In the midst of the mud, rain, heat and sex of a Catholic community of transsexual prostitutes in East Timor, Billy Maynard found his greatest friend. The 19-year-old photographer’s depiction of some of the most marginalised people in the troubled city of Dili is a fine example of social realism for someone so young. Gabriel Knowles caught up with Maynard ahead of his debut solo show to find out what drew him to the streets of Timor.

Billy Maynard

Gabriel Knowles: For most Australians East Timor is generally synonymous with conflict, especially as depicted by our media. When did you decide to go and see things for yourself?

Billy Maynard: A short trip at 16 was when I first went to Timor. I was hungry for a feeling that high school and parties couldn’t give me and it was always in my thoughts. I knew there would be an underground Dili that would satisfy a feeling I couldn’t quite understand or develop further in Australia. Trans/Tender started one evening, in an unexpected way on my third trip to Timor. I was 18.

GK: How did you find your way into an East Timorese community of transsexual prostitutes? Was it a long process to gain enough of their trust that they felt comfortable with you shooting them all the time?

BM: I was very lost in Timor and blue for the first few weeks. I would spend time by myself at night in my car. Other times I’d wander around and it made me feel more alone. I didn’t take pictures for a few weeks. And then one night I saw a group of girls on the street. I approached and they split – except Emmy. She thought I was a client and over the next week she introduced me to Peppe, who became my greatest friend. She showed me how to access and express the feeling I was chasing. After a while they didn’t notice a camera. It was just me.

GK: What was the reasoning behind deciding to shoot strictly at night with black and white film?

BM: Although I had no idea what my subject would be, I knew it had to be shot in black and white. Working at night wasn’t a choice. Peppe lived at night. So I lived at night. I fell in love with a 40 watt bulb, candle light, car beams and lighter flames. It was very unfamiliar. This light gave rooms little pockets of darkness in which you could hide completely if you felt like it. It did make you feel secure.

GK: I understand that you’re very aware of the photographic community at large, both past and present. How has this depth of knowledge informed how you work? 

BM: I know little about photographic history, but it’s great being shown new photographers. In photography my influences would be Koudelka and Eugene Smith. They mastered being human through art and image.

But really I’m more influenced by music than anything. I get played someone new and it excites me. The Stooges are a band that make me wanna go out and shoot. Especially listening to Dirt and Night. I just got introduced to Townes Van Zandt. It’s so nice to hear him sing about his troubles. Makes me want to do more.

GK: Are you planning to embed yourself somewhere else anytime soon?

BM: There are things that interest me and feed this feeling I have. Like God, guilt, sex, confession, fear and the borders of morality. I don’t have a location in mind although Latin America has been in my brain.

For me the beauty lies in young people. Really, I just want to keep finding this awkward love in unlikely places.

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Billy Maynard

Trans/Tender opens Friday May 20, 2011 at Damien Minton Annex Gallery. 583 Elizabeth St, Redfern. 6pm-8pm. Show continues until May 28, 2011.

Next story: Cosmic Maestro – Danielle Baldelli