Drag Queens Eighties Street Theater, a photography book by Kit Kittle that chronicles drag queens in New York from 1983 to 1987, is hoping to become a reality by crowdfunding on Kickstarter. Read the full story below and check out some amazing photographs taken by Kit.
A hardbound photography book on drag queens in New York City from 1983-1987
This is Drag Queens: Eighties Street Theater, a hardcover photo book of pictures I shot in New York City. I started it thirty years ago and hope Kickstarter can be a part of finishing it.
My first book, Roughnecks: Oil Patch USA, was published in 1985. It is the story of oilmen and the aggressive pride they show in their masculinity (here’s the intro). Roughnecks was a meaningful accomplishment for me as a young photographer. People magazine described it as “full of pungent, unexpected pleasure and insight.” The Today Show had me on to talk about it. Even my roughneck friends were happy with it.
But I always knew that it was incomplete. It was missing its natural complement, a book I had shot concurrently with Roughnecks that explored the other extreme of masculinity.
Starting in 1983, I shot thousands of slides (Kodachrome 25 and 64 in a Canon F1 35mm camera with a Metz strobe) of drag queens in New York City. As strange as it may sound, I loved photographing the drag queens. Unlike roughnecks, they loved the camera. They wanted to collaborate, to entertain you while they posed. Photographing them was capturing spontaneous little dramas, lively moments of street theater.
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me or the subjects, the photos were also capturing the ending and changing of an era. By 1987, the last year I shot, the AID’s epidemic had overtaken New York. Too many of the men I had photographed died. It was not the right time to publish a book on such a celebratory group and I put the project on hold.
My life and career continued with good fortune, but I always felt a disappointment that this story had not been told, that the essence of the drag queens had not been memorialized. These images have been in my archives for 25 years, seen by almost no one.
I owe the inspiration for this revival to Matteo Mise, who is curating my work for a show at the ArtNowNY gallery in Chelsea. We were reviewing some older work of mine when he came across the photos and came up with the idea of bringing the roughnecks and drag queens together in an exhibit. We selected 15 photos from each collection, to be printed in two sizes and limited to only five editions each. Two of the rewards for this project are photos from the exhibit (prices set by the gallery but with a free book included). The show is running from June 28th until July 12 on 428 West 28th street.
The process of selecting and organizing photos for the show was powerful. Many of the photos I had not seen in years. Time has mended much of the sadness, but the drag queens looked as fabulous as ever.
I think it is important that this era be recorded. I believe that it is owed to those who died. There was such an unusual quality of excitement, fun and adventure, until it suddenly ended. Now is the time to fulfill the obligation I have to the subjects.
The book will be similar to Roughnecks, about 8.5” wide and 11.0” tall. It will contain approximately sixty photos in a seventy page book along with an intro written by me about what I was shooting and why. Interspersed with the photos will be a few pointed and pertinent quotes, similar to my most recent book Enlightenment, published this spring.
I greatly appreciate you taking the time and interest in this project. Please message me if you have any questions.
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