> Olly

Michelle Sank / Olly



For the past year and a half I have been working with Olly, who is transgender, documenting his transition from female to male. Since childhood he has struggled with his female gender, living within a body that he has had no affiliation with. This had resulted in eating disorders and self-destructive behaviour. However, transition hormone therapy has started to address this.

Alongside the portraits I am creating Olly is writing about his journey:


“Call me Oliver, or Olly.

I always felt like a boy, I knew I was one, but I also knew I had a female body, that being a girl was what was expected of me, and at 5 years of age I had no way of articulating the tangled thicket of feelings inside. I grew up confused, with a sense of guilt and shame I couldn’t attach to anything specific.

When I hit puberty, I became more and more disturbed by my body, its alienness, its needs and wants. Life felt incomprehensible, threatening. Sport and study became my ways of coping; for over a decade my body became my site of blame, by object of abuse.

I’m 353 days on T. My mind and soul are the happiest they’ve been, but it is taking some long slow work to heal my body physically. “

 –  Olly (December 2015)




Michelle Sank was born in South Africa and currently resides in the UK. Her photographs have been exhibited and published extensively in the UK, Europe, Australia and Mexico, South Africa and the U.S.A. Her imagery is held in the permanent collections of Allan Servais, Brussells, Open Eye Gallery Archive, Liverpool, Societe Jersiaise and Guernsey Museum, Channel Islands, Southeast Museum of Photography, Florida and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas.

She has undertaken numerous commissions for prominent galleries and magazines in Europe and the USA and her work has won awards in many prestigious competitions including the National Portrait Gallery and the British Journal of Photography. She currently teaches at Falmouth University, Cornwall, UK

Sank has three published books, The Water’s Edge: Women on the Waterfront (Published by Liverpool University Press) – a study of women who worked and still work on Liverpool’s Docks, Becoming (Published by Belfast Exposed Photography and Ffotogallery,) – a major monograph featuring her youth portraits taken over five years, and The Submerged documenting the landscape and inhabitants of Aberystwyth, Wales (Published by Schilt Publishing).

Sank is represented by Gallery Vassie, Amsterdam.