The thought got here to Harry James Hanson and Devin Antheus whereas each have been attending “church” — their phrase to explain a drag present.
This specific efficiency passed off in December 2017, on the night of the winter solstice, at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a beloved queer dive bar within the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. The two, each now 32, have been struck that evening by the performers’ ages, which they guessed averaged about 60.
Wisconsin natives and associates since they met on Myspace when each have been 14, Mr. Antheus and Mx. Hanson, who makes use of a gender-neutral courtesy title and pronouns, “had a lack of queer elders growing up,” Mx. Hanson stated.
Watching the queens carry out at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge planted a seed within the minds of Mx. Hanson, a photographer, inventive director and drag artist in Brooklyn, and Mr. Antheus, a floral designer and author in San Francisco: to function drag elders in a publication that, as Mx. Hanson put it, “we wished we had as teenagers.”
In March 2018, they photographed and interviewed 4 performers from the San Francisco scene — Phatima Rude, then 51; Carla Gay, then 54; Renita Valdez, then 59; and Mutha Chucka, then 56 — and later pitched the undertaking to Sasha Velour, the drag artist and winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 9, who on the time was placing collectively the fourth problem of Velour: The Drag Magazine. But the difficulty by no means made it to print.
After a yr of sitting on the fabric, Mx. Hanson pitched it to a buddy at Vogue, which printed the pictures with an essay on its web site in April 2019. Soon after, The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on Phatima Rude, citing the Vogue piece. “Once it ran on the Vogue website, we realized there was a hunger for it,” Mr. Antheus stated, and the 2 determined to broaden the undertaking right into a e-book.
Both say they have been compelled by an urgency to seize the tales of an older era earlier than it was too late, in addition to a want to supply a corrective to the a lot youthful and camera-ready model of drag that has entered in style tradition through tv reveals akin to “Drag Race,” which not too long ago concluded its 14th season.
“Some queens feel slighted by the narrow category of drag presented on TV,” Mx. Hanson stated. The proven fact that “there are enough queens in America to even populate that many seasons of ‘Drag Race,’” Mx. Hanson added, “is because of the decades of regional drag communities ushering in new generations of queens.”
In June 2019, the duo launched into a cross-country sojourn of 16 cities, photographing and interviewing 77 extra drag artists, the oldest of whom was 90 on the time. “We wanted to talk to the punks and the pageant girls and the art queens,” Mx. Hanson stated, “to capture that beautiful diversity within so many different communities.”
Those performers, together with the 4 whose portraits first appeared on Vogue.com, fill the pages of “Legends of Drag: Queens of a Certain Age,” out June 21 from Cernunnos, an imprint of Abrams Books. Not solely a catalog of 81 drag queens, it additionally comprises tales of activism and protest. Many of its topics have been on the entrance strains of the homosexual liberation motion, within the ’60s, and the AIDS epidemic, within the ’80s.
The e-book’s gumdrop-bright portraits by Mx. Hanson have been all shot outside in full daylight to distinguish them from normal drag images, which is usually shot at bars or in studios. “For many of them, drag is not a daytime sport,” Mr. Antheus stated. “It was intimidating, but they came around.”
Each performer, all of whom obtained a mannequin price for his or her time on set, was photographed with flowers chosen by Mr. Antheus. Some are proven with varieties personally vital to them, whereas others’ flowers have been chosen primarily based on the outfits they wore, or the placement of their photograph shoot. The idea was not only a visible factor for the pictures.
“We wanted to give the girls their flowers,” Mr. Antheus stated, utilizing the expression meaning appreciating family members whereas they’re nonetheless alive.
That sentiment proved prophetic. By the time of the ultimate sitting for the e-book, in September, 4 of its topics had died: Phatima Rude, at 55; Lady Red Couture, at 43; the Goddess Bunny, at 61; and Tina Devore, at 67. “Losing queens through the process,” Mr. Antheus stated, “really solidified the importance that these are stories we need to get out.”
Mx. Hanson recalled Kelly Ray, 59, a drag queen from Durham, N.C., saying that taking part within the undertaking would be the final necessary factor the performer does. “That hit me right in the heart,” Mx. Hanson stated.
Though its creators noticed the e-book as an antidote to televised interpretations of drag, some contestants from the “Drag Race” franchise discovered their method into its pages. Sasha Velour, 34, wrote the foreword. Chad Michaels, the winner of “Drag Race All Stars” Season 1, is talked about in an interview with Dolly Levi, 64, from Los Angeles. Shawnna Brooks, 54, from Atlanta, is photographed within the again yard of Nicole Paige Brooks, from “Drag Race” Season 2. According to Mr. Antheus, these connections display that at this time’s drag queens are a part of a legacy that goes again many years.
He and Mx. Hanson see “Legends of Drag” as a part of an evolving undertaking. There are extra drag artists to go to, extra tales to inform. “There is a queen in Barcelona who is 95 that I really want to meet,” Mx. Hanson stated. “I have a Google spreadsheet of 75 queens that I want to work with,” unfold internationally “from Tulsa to Honolulu to Argentina.”
The final performer featured within the e-book is Simone, a transgender lady who doesn’t use the time period “drag queen” and declined to supply an age. (“We are not going there.”) Since the early ’90s, Simone has been identified for performing throughout New York City, together with outside close to the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the positioning of a 1969 rebellion that proved to be a flash level within the up to date L.G.B.T.Q. rights motion.
Simone, Mx. Hanson stated, “is very directly continuing in the tradition” of Marsha P. Johnson, the activist and drag performer who died in 1992 and is acknowledged as an early champion of transgender rights. “I don’t think there are many individuals who actually do warrant a comparison to” Johnson, Mx. Hanson stated.
As for being named a legend? “It’s such a compliment,” Simone stated. “Any girl would be amazed and excited about seeing her face in a book with such fabulous divas.”