Bettina Rheims' body of work Gender Studies, depicts transsexuals, women that have become men, men that have become women and a third gender; those that preferred not to choose a sex and exist as both, adopting a dual identity.
The foundation of this project emerged from a request to republish Modern Lovers a body of work concentrating on androgyny and transgender shot in the late eighties and exhibited at Hamiltons in 1990. Rheims decided to take the idea a step further and explore the differences and mindsets in the world of gender today in comparison to twenty plus years ago. Launching a Facebook profile depicting a number of the original pictures, Rheims posted a message encouraging those that 'felt different' to get in touch with the studio and from there she orchestrated Skype conversations with young volunteers from around the world who shared "the most beautiful stories about their lives. A lot of them knew from childhood, that they were born in the wrong body and had decided, many with the help of their parents, to correct the original mistake. But what struck me as being completely new were the ones who refused to choose between the two options, and had decided to live using both identities. Depending on the day, the mood; why not have it all? In Australia, last Autumn, someone got the mention 'X' on their passport, recognising for the first time the existence of a third sex.", Bettina Rheims, 2012.
Inviting twenty-seven candidates from around the world to visit her studio, Rheims collaborated with her friend and designer Jean Colonna who "helped to glorify these new Modern Lovers" by manufacturing their poses and dressing them in shredded garments. Rheims encouraged a mystical notion throughout the project using muted milky hues and, although steeped in reality, the work has been heavily styled and fictionalised. She was particularly struck by the voices, tones and words her subjects used; some darting between pitches and talking about magic, witches, fairies and dreams of princesses. Rheims was inspired to work with renowned sound artist Frédéric Sanchez in order to record the voices, thus adding an audible dimension to the visual exploration.