We are fascinated by Gorgeous, a photography book that plays glamorous tribute to queer superstars. There’s an otherworldly, timeless quality to the images that makes us want to study every inch.
We’ve excerpted a few excellent photos below, along with an interview with photographer Rob Lebow and Creative Director Masha Kupets.
What’s your one-sentence “elevator pitch” for the project?
RL: The Gorgeous Project features masterfully curated iconic portraits and personal stories from some of today’s hottest LGBTQ artists, beautifully designed to honor individuality and inspire our audience.
MK: “With Great Beauty Comes Great Power.” We’re creating beautiful images that we hope will have a lot of power to change the way people think about gender and beauty.
This is a topic that might be challenging or unfamiliar to a lot of people — do you worry that audiences might not know what to make of it?
RL: One of my personal goals with Gorgeous is to pose the question “Why is it that our understanding of gender and beauty still hasn’t changed much by 2013?” I believe it’s because as a society we have grown up being taught to discriminate by placing something against a definition of what we have learned to be right and wrong. In our book, Masha and I embrace the beauty within individuality. The personal stories from our cast share the strength of self-awareness. I believe that by celebrating diversity and shining a positive light on our LGBTQ community’s role models, it helps to break down the definitions of gender. If our audience can appreciate the humanity in our pictures and relate to their stories, even just a little bit, then we have accomplished our goal.
MK: I think that this was our challenge initially, but I think we made the concept more tangible through visual exploration. Art and photography is a perfect medium to communicate this type of message. Our portraits are glamourous and iconic, and the stories are approachable. This should make the book very easy to digest. Not everyone will relate to it, but the goal is not only to empower people, it is also to educate our readers about this topic.
How has Gorgeous challenged the way that you look at gender expression in yourself or the people around you?
RL: I’ve met some of the most talented artists and performers working on Gorgeous. Our book explores an untold story of strength and beauty in the journey towards self-realization. If we spent more time getting to know each other and less time judging the masks we wear, we would see that we are all one and the same. The Gorgeous story celebrates that journey of individuality by chipping away at gender norms.
MK: I think this book succeeds in challenging a lot of gender norms. Our subjects show you that gender does not need to be clearly defined. What is feminine? What is masculine? Does it matter either way? I think our images bring this discussion to light, and show that each individual has a unique story, and that who they are is OK and completely acceptable. I personally don’t identify other people by their gender, I see them as an individual. We have really gotten to know our models — they have taught us, and hopefully will teach our readers that challenging gender norms is a good exercise, and breaking free from this mold is our visual and social goal.
Tell me a little about the behind-the-scenes work — who are the people setting up the shots and helping your create the images?
Major gratitude goes out to our accomplished and talented creative team: Tara Kemp is our wardrobe stylist, Curtis McElhinney is our lighting assistant, Dylan Gordon is our digital technician, Michael Blackwellis our PR consultant, Lily Kupets is our styling consultant, Anya Todd is our Creative Assistant, Delphina Delgadillo is our Creative Intern and Patricia Wayne is our most recent addition with PR.
And tell me a little about the people posing for you — what are some of their unique life experiences they bring to the project?
MK: The book will feature portraits of some of today’s most visible LGBTQ artists, film and television stars, gender illusionists, musicians, Vegas headliners and celebrated drag performers. In collaboration with the artists, our team has personally curated each portrait from styling and makeup to art direction, with the intent to educate and empower. Our subjects have very powerful stories. One of our models Ernie Omega overcame homelessness, and is now a very successful artist. He has found himself and surpassed his obstacles and struggles as a gay man.
RL: We have strategically cast some of today’s hottest LGBTQ artists and performers to bring a variety of talent and life experience to the project. Every participant has a unique and solid story. Without getting too specific, I believe the common thread of personal strength and self-awareness that each of these subjects share crosses over into these portraits, and will deliver hope and inspiration to our audience. These are our LGBTQ role models and fighters that have won many of life’s sorted battles. We are so excited to share with you our visual accomplishment and a beautiful story of one’s journey towards self-realization, that’s G O R G E O U S.
Have you discovered different drag aesthetics within your subjects? Do you categorize different “types” of drag?
RL: The Gorgeous Project is proud to have curated each of the original looks in this book and will include the entire LGBTQ spectrum: androgyny, drag queens, drag kings, gender benders, trans, plus a few surprises for shock & awe. That’s more or less how we have categorized them.