In January 2023, the work they have made with TiChan will be showing as part of the Horschamp Film Festival at the Arlequin cinema in Paris’ 6th arrondissement. The project, which is ongoing, is an evocative mix of mediums.
Photographers Olivia Arthur and Philipp Ebeling began collaborating with TiChan when she contacted Magnum photos’ Paris office in the summer of 2018. ‘She was just at the beginning of a long journey to change from Thibaut to Charlotte and wanted the process to be documented,’ Arthur says. ‘It would take many years before the physical transition would be complete and the psychological and social changes would take even longer. We committed to follow the journey all the way through and she suggested that we call her TiChan as an in-between name, a bit of Thibaut and a bit of Charlotte.'
"an in-between name, a bit of Thibaut and a bit of Charlotte"
‘The first iteration of this project was a three-screen installation that was shown at the Nuit Blanche in Paris in 2019,’ Ebeling says. ‘Since then, we have continued to collaborate, though the process has been delayed by the Covid years. The work consists of documentary film, still images, written testimony, and continues to grow and expand as we work together.’
It’s a fluid approach to form to suit subject matter just as complex and mercurial: how are our identities shaped, our personhoods formed? There is no neat endpoint. As TiChan puts it at the start of a film work, ‘Everybody has their right to believe what they want. There is no absolute truth in this world.’
"In many ways we consider ourselves to be three directors of the project"
Besides its mosaic of different visual formats, multiperspectivity is integral to the series. ‘In many ways we consider ourselves to be three directors of the project,’ Arthur says. ‘She had specific ideas for the work. For example, she was clear that she wanted to be photographed nude.’
Indeed, this series is an ode to intimacy. With parents Philippe and Marie-Claude pulls the viewer a seat at the family table, in a small village in the south of France, while another image of TiChan sticking a hormone patch on her shoulder invites the viewer into her bathroom. Henri Cartier-Bresson once suggested that ‘For some, photographing intimate subjects is a life instinct, for others it is more of a death wish. It is the “psychoanalyst’s couch.”’
"an ode to intimacy"
The dress 2, with its dramatic direct flash, is testament to Arthur and Ebeling’s life instinct, and to the deep sense of trust shared by the trio. The image of dress billowing in a private garden recalls Fragonard’s The Swing, but with the frivolity, eroticism – and even the swing – all hollowed out, such that what’s left is pure fantasy.
"the deep sense of trust shared by the trio"
Even as stills – without the accompanying field recordings, music and readings by TiChan from an autobiographical text, which viewers in Paris will be treated to – there is an abiding sense of interiority. For Arthur, the series is ‘about the process of arriving at the decision to transition’ as opposed to the physical transformation. ‘We began to explore the emotional world of Thibaut’s past, shaped by denial, suppression, anger and the overriding feeling of being in the wrong body.’
That sounds like a lot of yourself to lay bare – especially for the usually introverted TiChan, more used to hiding behind avatars online or live action role-playing characters. ‘It’s a massive deal,’ Ebeling says, ‘and a difficult experience to share with the world. But that’s part of TiChan’s motivation for inviting us to make this series – to help other people undergoing the same transition.’