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On Photography: Allison Lippy, 1987-present

“It took 27 years for me to realize I was transgender. It took a month or two to decide to physically transition. It took even less time than that to understand that I should document my transformation — for myself and for anyone else who needs to see it.” -Allison Lippy

The opening photo to this On Photography article shows the work of Allison Lippy. It’s solid photojournalism. The photos show that Allison Lippy knows how to tell a visual story. Sometimes being a photojournalist requires the camera to document changes in the photographer herself.

On Photography: Allison Lippy, 1987-present
Two points in time


Allison Lippy photographed her transition in sensitive, revealing self-portraits made over several years. She told her story in National Geographic.

The photo above spans 2014 to 2018 as Allison Lippy transitioned from who she wasn’t into who she is. It included FFS — facial feminization surgery. Hormones could not make the physical transition alone. The surgery changes the bone structure that testosterone causes to develop into a masculine skull shape. It reshapes the skull to be more feminine. Her “new” face would take some time to form on her reconstructed skull.

Transitioning begins

Allison Lippy began transitioning on April 7, 2015. The photo on the left (below) was taken then.

On Photography: Allison Lippy, 1987-present

“The middle frame, taken on May 18, 2015, documents a disconnect between me and my former self,” she said. “The photograph on the right, taken on July 25, 2015, is a reflection of my understanding from research that hormones and hormone blockers would cause physical changes. Not knowing how this would affect my body specifically, there was an underlying anxiety of the unknown, as results vary from person to person.”

New face, new shape

On Photography: Allison Lippy, 1987-present

On April 20, 2016, Allison photographed herself five days after her FFS. The surgery was invasive and painful.

First dress

On Photography: Allison Lippy, 1987-present

Allison Lippy made this self-portrait on May 28, 2016. She is wearing the first dress she ever owned. It was given to her by a friend, another trans woman.

She said, “I wasn’t even halfway to where I wanted to be physically and I felt like a walking work in progress.”

The present

On Photography: Allison Lippy, 1987-present
May 29, 2022 self portrait
On Photography: Allison Lippy, 1987-present

“Being a trans woman, who happens to also be a photographer, I realize the importance of representation of self and how that can be a powerful tool in storytelling,” Lippy says. “Seeing a queer persons’ story from their own perspective sheds light on what otherwise might go unseen.”

Allison Lippy knows she has been on a journey. She does not intend to represent all trans people. She knows that there is no right or wrong way to transition. “We each have our own path,” she says.

Looking back

“It’s difficult to look back at old family photos now. I wish I could have been me earlier,” she says. “But when I look at photos from early in this project, I see a person who is on a journey to being their true self. And toward the end of the series, there’s a few images where I think: ‘This is me, as I am. I have zero regrets.’”

Sources: National Geographic, Allison Lippy.

Read more stories of inspirational photographers in On Photography.

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Rafael Jones

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