Gender as Performance: the playful photography and life of Rosamond Norbury

Documentary filmmaker Joella Cabalu has a first look at WIFTV Board member Sharon McGowan’s upcoming documentary Bearded Ladies: the Photography of Rosamond Norbury, which will premiere at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on August 18th.
***Update: The film will also screen at #VIWIFF2016 on Wednesday March 9th at 3:30 PM***

Rosamond Norbory's

Rosamond Norbory’s “Ismail” (aka past WIFTV board member Barbara Alexandre)

When was the last time you played?

As adults, we play league sports and Settlers of Catan but when was the last time you played “dress-up”? For women who want to dress-up as sexy, sultry, ultrafeminine versions of themselves there’s boudoir photography. And of course, there’s also Halloween – another reason to dress-up as a sexy, sultry, ultrafeminine version of a character or inanimate object (sexy Crayola Crayon, seriously?).

But how about dressing up as a male persona?
That’s not sexy at all for women, but it can be fun and silly! Such whimsy glows from the photography of Rosamond Norbury, the main subject of Sharon McGowan‘s documentary Bearded Ladies.

Local photographer Rosamond Norbury is a pioneer in the Vancouver queer community with a talent for showing the humanity of her subjects from rodeo cowboys to drag queens to kinksters. In one scene, Rosamond explains to a group of high school students that her self-coined “omnisexuality” helps her with her craft. She’s comfortable with exploring her subjects without judgement.

Longtime friend and director, McGowan was surprised to learn how patient and uninhibited Rosamond was during the entire filmmaking process. After producing and directing many projects, McGowan was eager to be hands-on again shooting the film primarily with secondary camera by Harvey LaRocque. Rounding out the team are producer Peggy Thompson and editor and WIFTV Board member Arwen Hunter, who was a blessing to find for McGowan after accumulating 3 terabytes of footage.

The self-funded project began three years ago as a short film on Rosamond’s upcoming photography exhibition of the same name at the Queer Arts Festival. However, McGowan soon realized the potential for a feature when she interviewed the eight women selected to be transformed into male personas. Complete with realistic facial hair of their choosing – goatee, soul patch, handlebar moustache, there were now eight fascinating male characters to include in the film as well!

L-R: Dianne Holme (Phil McCracken), Barbara Beeby (Bobby Beersby), Rosamond Norbury (Rod Bush), Eliza Hargreaves (Steve)

L-R: Dianne Holme (Phil McCracken), Barbara Beeby (Bobby Beersby), Rosamond Norbury (Rod Bush), Eliza Hargreaves (Steve)

In addition to these bearded ladies is Rosamond’s own male persona, Rod Bush, the laconic gay daddy who doesn’t say much. In an alternate universe scene, Rod hangs out with his buddies Bobby Beersby and Phil McCracken at Dude Chilling Park, cat-calling and chugging beer, a hilarious highlight.

So, which personas can you expect to see at the World Premiere at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival?

“I think everyone is going to come as themselves,” laughs McGowan, whose male persona would be a pocket-protector wearing geek named Hector Fresh, similar to the television character Gomer Pyle from The Andy Griffith Show.

In the end, viewers will learn that Rosamond is unpredictable so whether it’s Rosamond or Rod or Rose Bush the delicate queen that shows up, expect to be taken on a fun magical ride.

By Joella Cabalu


Joella Cabalu (photo courtesy of Langara College)

Joella Cabalu is a Filipino-Canadian documentary filmmaker with an Art History degree from the University of British Columbia (2008) and more recently a graduate of the Documentary Film Production Program at Langara College (2013). She intends to tell intimate stories of personal struggles from the perspective of marginalized people, including immigrants, women of colour, and the LGBTQ community. In 2015, she produced, directed and wrote her first feature documentary It Runs in the Family for OUTtv Network to be released in summer 2016.

Connect: with Joella on:
Twitter @joellacabalu
Instagram @joellacabalu
LinkedIn: Joella Cabalu

Bearded Ladies: The Photography of Rosamond Norbury premieres at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on Tuesday, August 18th at 8:45 pm at Vancity Theatre.

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