'Legends of Drag: Queens of a Certain Age' features Drag Elders

The idea came to Harry James Hanson and Devin Antheus when they were both attending ‘church’ – their word to describe a drag show. This...


The idea came to Harry James Hanson and Devin Antheus when they were both attending ‘church’ – their word to describe a drag show.

This particular performance took place in December 2017, on the evening of the winter solstice, at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a beloved queer dive bar in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The two, both now 32, were struck that evening by the age of the performers, which they estimated to be around 60 on average.

Hailing from Wisconsin and friends since meeting on Myspace when they were 14, Mr. Antheus and Mx. Hanson, who uses a gender-neutral title and courtesy pronouns, “had a lack of queer elders growing up,” Mx. Hanson said.

Watching the queens perform at Aunt Charlie’s salon planted a seed in Mx’s mind. Hanson, photographer, creative director and drag artist in Brooklyn, and Mr. Antheus, floral designer and writer in San Francisco: for featuring drag alumni in a publication that, like Mx. Hanson said it, “we wish we had as teenagers.”

In March 2018, they photographed and interviewed four artists from the San Francisco scene – Phatima Rude, then 51; Carla Gay, then 54 years old; Renita Valdez, then 59 years old; and then-56-year-old Mutha Chucka — and then pitched the project to Sasha Velor, the drag performer and Season 9 winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” who at the time was preparing the fourth issue of Velor: The DragMagazine. But the number was never printed.

After a year of sitting on the hardware, Mx. Hanson introduced him to a friend at Vogue, who posted the images with a writing on its website in April 2019. Shortly after, The San Francisco Chronicle published a article on Phatima Rude, citing the Vogue article. “Once it was published on the Vogue website, we realized there was a hunger for it,” Mr. Antheus said, and the two decided to expand the project into a book.

The two say they were compelled by the urgency to capture the stories of an older generation before it was too late, as well as the desire to offer a fix to the much younger, ready version. to photograph drag that entered popular culture via television shows. like “Drag Race,” which recently concluded its 14th season.

“Some queens feel disrespected by the narrow category of flirting shown on TV,” Mx said. Hanson said. The fact that “there are enough queens in America to populate even that many seasons of ‘Drag Race,'” Mx. Hanson added, “It’s because of decades of regional drag communities ushering in new generations of queens.”

In June 2019, the duo embarked on a cross-country stint in 16 cities, photographing and interviewing 77 other drag performers, the oldest of whom was 90 at the time. “We wanted to talk to punks, pageant girls and queens of art,” Mx said. Hanson said, “to capture this beautiful diversity within so many different communities.”

These performers, along with the four whose portraits first appeared on Vogue.com, fill the pages of “Legends of Drag: Queens of a Certain Ageout June 21 from Cernunnos, an imprint of Abrams Books. Not only a catalog of 81 drag queens, it also contains stories of activism and protest. Many of his subjects were on the frontlines of the gay liberation movement in the 1960s and the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

The brightly colored portraits of the book by Mx. Hanson were all shot outdoors in broad daylight to differentiate them from standard drag photography, which is often shot in bars or studios. “For a lot of them, drag isn’t a daytime sport,” Mr. Antheus said. “It was intimidating, but they came.”

Each performer, who all received model pay for their time on set, was photographed with flowers chosen by Mr. Antheus. Some are featured with varieties that are personally important to them, while others were chosen based on the outfits they wore or the location of their photoshoot. The concept wasn’t just a visual element for the images.

“We wanted to give the girls their flowers,” Mr Antheus said, using the phrase which means appreciating loved ones while they are still alive.

This feeling turned out to be prophetic. By the time of the book’s final screening in September, four of his subjects had died: Phatima Rude, 55; Lady Red Coutureat 43; the rabbit goddess, at age 61; and Tina Devore, at 67. “Losing queens through the process,” Mr. Antheus said, “really reinforced the importance that these are stories we need to get out of.”

Mx. Hanson recalled Kelly Ray, 59, a drag queen from Durham, North Carolina, saying participating in the project might be the last major thing the artist does. “It hit me right in the heart,” Mx said. Hanson said.

Although its creators saw the book as an antidote to television interpretations of drag, some contestants of the “Drag Race” franchise found themselves within its pages. Sasha Velor, 34, wrote the foreword. Chad Michaels, the winner of season 1 of “Drag Race All Stars”, is mentioned in an interview with Dolly Levi, 64, of Los Angeles. Shawnna Brooks, 54, of Atlanta, is pictured in the backyard of Nicole Paige Brooks, of ‘Drag Race’ Season 2. According to Antheus, these connections demonstrate that today’s drag queens are part of a legacy that goes back decades.

He and Mx. Hanson sees “Legends of Drag” as part of an evolving project. There are more drag performers to visit, more stories to tell. “There’s a queen in Barcelona who’s 95 that I really want to meet,” Mx said. Hanson said. “I have a Google spreadsheet of 75 queens I want to work with,” spread all over the world “from Tulsa to Honolulu to Argentina.”

The final performer featured in the book is Simone, a transgender woman who doesn’t use the term “drag queen” and declined to give an age. (“We’re not going.”) Since the early ’90s, Simone has been known for her performances throughout New York City, including outside near the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the site of a 1969 uprising that turned out to be a flash. point in the contemporary LGBTQ rights movement.

Simone, Mx. Hanson said, “continues very directly in the tradition” of Marsha P Johnson, the activist and drag performer who died in 1992 and is recognized as an early advocate for transgender rights. “I don’t think there are many people who actually warrant a comparison to ‘Johnson, Mx. Hanson said.

As for being named a legend? “That’s such a compliment,” Simone said. “Any girl would be amazed and excited to see her face in a book with such fabulous divas.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: 'Legends of Drag: Queens of a Certain Age' features Drag Elders
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