The big picture: Marvel Harris captures a joyous moment during his gender transition

When he was a child, Marvel Harris had always felt joyful in the rain, but in his teenage years he’d forgotten that feeling. In adolescence, Marvel, who is autistic, experienced depression and gender dysphoria which provoked eating disorders and self-harm. In 2017, he embarked on gender transition and documented every stage of that process in a series of self-portraits, which are painful to witness and profoundly affecting. This picture was taken outside Marvel’s parents’ house in the town of Zutphen in the east of the Netherlands. He was recovering from gender affirmation surgery and elated by the fact that he could once again feel the inner childhood joy of a rainstorm.

Marvel, now 25, started taking his self-portraits, he says, because he found it “really difficult to express what was going on in my mind”. At first, the photographs helped him to speak about his feelings with his family. Later, when he shared the pictures with therapists and friends, they encouraged him to put them online, to help others who might recognise themselves in his images. His camera provided an unflinching closeup of his traumas, as well as a tender account of the support he received from those close to him. Marvel, a book of his pictures, is the winner of this year’s Mack first book award.

“At first, the focus of my project was my gender transition,” he says. “But along the way, I found out that it’s about an ongoing search for myself: being a human with feelings, who is continuously developing.” Storms have become a useful measure of this progress. “Even in the darkest of times, something like the rain can make me incredibly happy,” he says. “If I ever feel like I am losing this capacity again, I will remind myself that rain can be my remedy.”

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