I first saw Jessi on the street in Clapham. He walked into an internet shop, I followed him in and introduced myself. It's not everyday you see a 60 year old man in a skirt, thong, holding a handbag and wearing strap on fake boobs which he constructed himself out of papier mache. If you saw Jessi you wouldn't forget him. Some know him as the 'Clapham Tranny', others as 'The Chicken Shop Transvestite' as he made a short appearance on the TV programme. He used to be a man called Ian. He's from South Africa. His background is unclear, he didn't want to talk about it. He was 35 when he decided he wanted to start dressing up as a women. Jessi says he tried to make his previous girlfriends dress up 'sexy' but they wouldn't. He thought he could do a better job and so he started cross dressing. He said he used to have 'quite a normal life' and didn't previously have any inclination to dress as a woman.
Jessi is fascinating and I knew I had to photograph him when I saw him. We had a series of bizarre telephone conversations leading up to the day. I knew it was going to be an unorthodox shoot. I photographed him in and around his flat in West Norwood. Jessi has turned his small flat into his dressing room- clothes, high heels, makeup and jewellery everywhere. When I arrived Jessi sat me down and drew a diagram which demonstrated the angles he wanted me to photograph him at. I had to photograph down him on my knees so that he looked elongated. I had to shout 'tummy in' before taking a picture and I had to check his necklace was placed in a certain position against his chest. Jessi told me what lenses to use and exactly how to crop the image. He knew what he wanted. He hated all the suggestions I made. He spoke aggressively when I took a picture that wasn't right in his mind. He told me he was a much better photographer than me and that I didn't have a clue. He wouldn't sit still for longer than 5 seconds. Jessi didn't make things easy. We came to an agreement to alternatively do one shot his way and one mine.
Jessi wanted to create a living room set on his street corner, I have no idea why. He took a green chair which he had found previously that morning on the street, a lamp and a book which he pretended to read and a mug which he insisted on having in hand for most of the shoot. It was totally bizarre. Jessies neighbours came out onto the street and complained about his inappropriate attire. It was a family area. He was wearing a green net dress, his thong and strap on fake boobs all on show. Jessi got very defensive, retaliating with 'you look like shit. I look much better than you', more locals got involved and a verbal war erupted. I stood on the side lines not really knowing whether to intervene, I wanted to do a runner. Jessi was clearly shaken up by the experience, we went back to his flat and I tried to calm him down. I then took this photograph of Jessi sat on a chair in his flat lit by the window and it's my favourite image from the shoot.
The shoot really was a crazy experience. Jessi is actually a funny, thoughtful and charismatic person but I also sense he is also a very lonely, angry and sad man. Jessi sings, he writes, he plays the keyboard, check out his website www.percyvere.co.uk.