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Hana Pesut's Switcheroo Project

A Vancouver-based photographer shows us what happens when couples swap style.

Interview By Jen Hazen, March 28, 2013

In 2010, Vancouver-based photographer Hana Pesut embarked on a photo project: taking pics of couples, friends, and family in their own outfits and then again after they swapped clothing. The result is "Switcheroo"—a funny, poignant take on gender bending that conveys an enduring bond between Pesut’s subjects, no words necessary. (Confession: we’re totally jealous of these couples.) NoMA spoke with Pesut about gender politics, the upcoming Switcheroo book, and her subjects getting naked in public.

Photos by Hana Pesut

Nothing Major: You’re self-taught. When did you take up photography?

Hana Pesut: Ever since I can remember my dad always had a camera with him so I guess that's what first sparked my interest. I think it was in my early teens or before that I started doing the same thing. Five or six years ago a friend lent me her Hasselblad and that's when I began to take it more seriously.  

When did you start the Switcheroo project?
The very first Switcheroo was taken in May 2010. 


What gave you the idea for this project? Any particular inspiration or did it just pop in your mind?
I was camping with some friends and two of them were dressed very differently from each other. One was wearing tie-dye, sequins, leopard print, lots of silk scarves.  Everything was very bright and colorful. The other was wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt. I thought it would be fun if they switched outfits and I decided to take before and after photos.  

How many photos have you taken for the project so far?
I think I've taken around 200 now mostly in Vancouver where I live, but I've also shot Switcheroos in Vienna, Barcelona, Osaka, Paris, San Francisco, New York, LA, Palm Springs, Austin, and Montreal.  


What are you trying to communicate with the photos taken for Switcheroo?
When I first started I just thought it would be an interesting new view on taking a portrait, but now after shooting so many and hearing from so many people who all seem to have different opinions, I know it's saying a lot more than just a portrait. I still enjoy just hearing everyone's own interpretations rather than putting an idea out there of what I think it should be.


Were the subjects prepped at all prior to the shoot?
I usually ask the subjects if they have a location in mind (especially if I'm in a city I don't know) and if not, I'll try to just find somewhere that is convenient for them to meet me. I never tell anyone what to wear or how to pose and I usually just make sure that there is either somewhere for them to change or that they are ok with changing in public.  

Even though it may be “just clothing” there is something very personal about style, and swapping that unique aesthetic with your significant other just seems incredibly special to me. Am I taking it way too seriously? Feel free to tell me to chill out.
It’s different for everyone, but I personally think it's really special. Usually the person you are switching clothes with is someone you really care for so how could it not be?    


What kind of feedback have you received regarding the project?
I don’t think most of the subjects had ever tried on each other's clothes so it has been a lot of surprise and uncontrollable laughter. One girlfriend didn't even tell her boyfriend what they were doing until we met so he was a little unsure. Then there were a few that were pretty matter of fact—they had planned their outfits so it was no surprise. 

Any particularly bizarre stories?
One of the first ones I took we shot in Stanley Park, which is a pretty big tourist destination in Vancouver. The couple was changing clothes right out in public and just as they were changing a bus full of tourists showed up… and looked very shocked at the view.  

How is the Switcheroo book coming along?
The book has been really hard because I have so many photos and not enough room for all of them! But it's almost done and hopefully going to print next week—sorry to everyone who's waiting! 


Do you think that Western culture in general has become more accepting of gender neutrality when it comes to style/fashion? What about tolerance of gender neutrality, as a whole?
In general, yes. My mom told me that when she was a kid she wasn't even allowed to wear pants or jeans; she had to wear a skirt or dress. It wasn't acceptable then for women to be wearing men's clothing and vice versa but now it seems that almost anything goes. And in fashion now there are men modeling women's clothes and women modeling men's clothes.  

Love that. I feel like this sort of project is really important because it separates people from learned social norms that they depend on. It presents them with the perspective, “Look, no big deal.”
Haha! I like the way you put that. Well, yes I really hope this does open people's minds and maybe change the way they think about or see certain things, but unfortunately I also think some people are just stuck in their ways.   

See more Switcheroos at Sincerely Hana