Relationship, #23 (The Longest Day of the Year), 2011
Relationship, #33, 2008-2013
There’s a photo on Myspace from 2005, picturing a party in Manhattan. In the crowd, two strangers are dancing. Three years later, those anonymous people would meet and fall in love. From 2008 until 2014, Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst took hundreds more photographs of one another, not as part of a noisy group, but together in the privacy of their own home. Over the course of that time, Drucker, a transgender woman, and Ernst, a transgender man, would transition, side-by-side.
When Ernst met Drucker, he explains in the introduction to their book Relationship, neither knew of any couple like themselves, composed of one transman and one transwoman. They made the pictures only for themselves, a chronicle of their daily lives, spent together in a house in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, inherited for a time from performance artist Ron Athey, who was then departing to London.
Drucker and Ernst were snapping photographs against a rich backdrop of artistic heritage. The house, not having been renovated since 1917, still bears the memory of former owners and visitors, including painter Lari Pittman and genderqueer artist Vaginal Davis. This house was their playground, and the Relationship photographs were born from the impulse to preserve and record both their romance and their ongoing transitions.
It was MoMA’s Stuart Comer, co-curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2014 Biennial, who “discovered” the images. As he was putting together the show, Drucker and Ernst happened to show him their unseen archive, kept hidden for years from the public eye. Comer was stunned, and the deeply personal snaps were included as part of the Biennial.
Relationship is first and foremost a love story, a tale of two people who trusted in one another during a time of metamorphosis. The revelations aren’t earth-shattering; they’re the ordinary epiphanies that come with living each and every day with a partner and companion. In many ways, they’re family photographs. The artists had many “firsts,” both monumental and small, including the time when Drucker broke her vegetarianism just to taste the razor clams they caught in Ernst’s Oregon hometown.
The Relationship images hit hard, especially when seen with the knowledge that Drucker and Ernst are no longer romantically linked. Their inner world no longer exists as it was pictured here; they’ve moved out and on to new projects, though often collaborating professionally. Relationship is a six-year time capsule, a reminder of who they were when they were young and in love.
Relationship, #9, 2008-2013
Relationship, #44 (Flawless Through the Mirror), 2013
Relationship, #12, 2008-2013
Relationship, #15, 2008-2013
Relationship, #24 (The Shadow Self), 2011
Relationship, #49, 2011
Relationship, #50, 2011
Relationship, #59, 2014
All images © Zackary Drucker & Rhys Ernst