Cultural Edge in Public Space: The BAGLY Prom & Lipstick Before Drag Bingo
My photographs have always been about people. In the context of the greater society, we are each influenced and shaped by the groups we belong to, the groups we choose not to belong to, and the groups we are not allowed to belong to. I am intrigued by how each of us integrates those influences, yielding or resisting to elements of mainstream culture, attaching ourselves to subgroups and creating our own unique selves. We are such a varied and fascinating society with so many subcultures that exist and even thrive beneath the eye level of mainstream society.
This portfolio represents two bodies of work. The first body is a project that began with frequent visits to Provincetown over the past thirty years. Having a gay male friend, who I’d known since childhood, now living in Ptown put me in the center of a swirl of gay culture. In my twenties, I met and hung out with a whole range of people from drag queen performers to young men who were dying of AIDS at a time before people began living with the disease. This was all happening within the greater context of P-town’s traditional Portuguese culture and the summer influx of families visiting a popular beach resort. The tension between impending death, outrageous camp, and summer vacation was palpable.
Over the passing decades the political landscape shifted attention from HIV-AIDS to parental rights for gay people, to gay marriage, and most recently to transgender equality. Through it all I developed a deeper confidence in my vision and a sense of urgency about documenting these challenges, this place in history, and what I saw as the resulting expression of unbreakable human spirit. Lipstick Before Drag Bingo is a body of work that was created over the course of seven years between 2006-2012. With several decades of experience as a street photographer, my images in the first few years were purely street photography. The personal impact of the political shifts involving gay issues influenced my photographic passions; it became much more important to me to know my subjects on a deeper level. I moved into a more intimate street/studio set up. I developed a portable studio and brought it to the sidelines, not wanting to separate myself from the allure of the street. In this new space I attempted to move fluidly between the spontaneity of the street and the intimacy of portraiture.
Several years after beginning the Ptown project, I began shooting at the Boston Gay & Lesbian Youth Prom (BAGLY). My goals and my approach were similar, beginning with a street style approach to the party and transitioning to shooting prom portraits of the youth. BAGLY provides a safe haven for youth who are often, even in these progressive times, outsiders in their own youth culture and who may not yet have a foothold in adult gay culture – if such a thing exists any longer. The yearly BAGLY Prom is an event that attempts to fill the hole that is left when these youth are not allowed to attend, or don’t feel a sense of belonging, at the traditional youth proms in their own high schools.
In my work as a school psychologist I have witnessed the challenges faced by youth on the margins of conventional youth culture. In both arenas of my work I feel strongly about supporting the efforts of youth to find themselves and express who they are. Although they may not dwell in the mainstream of the larger culture, the BAGLY youth are not exotic subject matter. They are our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, and students in the classrooms of our local high schools and colleges. It is up to us, as adults to not only support youth self-expression, but to celebrate their courage, imagination and exuberance. At the same time, we open ourselves up to re-experiencing a time of life that many of us found very challenging and painful. It is my hope that this work will provide a transformative experience for both observers and subjects alike.