June 28, 2022
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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 occurred 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 2, each now 32, have been struck that evening by the performers’ ages, which they guessed averaged about 60.

Wisconsin natives and mates 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 rising up,” Mx. Hanson mentioned.

Watching the queens carry out at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge planted a seed within the minds of Mx. Hanson, a photographer, artistic director and drag artist in Brooklyn, and Mr. Antheus, a floral designer and author in San Francisco: to characteristic drag elders in a publication that, as Mx. Hanson put it, “we wished we had as youngsters.”

In March 2018, they photographed and interviewed 4 performers from the San Francisco scene — Phatima Impolite, then 51; Carla Homosexual, 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 situation of Velour: The Drag Journal. However the situation by no means made it to print.

After a 12 months of sitting on the fabric, Mx. Hanson pitched it to a buddy at Vogue, which revealed the photographs with an essay on its web site in April 2019. Quickly after, The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on Phatima Impolite, citing the Vogue piece. “As soon as it ran on the Vogue web site, we realized there was a starvation for it,” Mr. Antheus mentioned, and the 2 determined to develop the undertaking into a ebook.

Each say they have been compelled by an urgency to seize the tales of an older technology earlier than it was too late, in addition to a need to supply a corrective to the a lot youthful and camera-ready model of drag that has entered standard tradition by way of tv reveals equivalent to “Drag Race,” which lately concluded its 14th season.

“Some queens really feel slighted by the slender class of drag offered on TV,” Mx. Hanson mentioned. The truth that “there are sufficient queens in America to even populate that many seasons of ‘Drag Race,’” Mx. Hanson added, “is as a result of of the many years 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 wished to speak to the punks and the pageant ladies and the artwork queens,” Mx. Hanson mentioned, “to seize that stunning variety inside so many various communities.”

These 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 accommodates tales of activism and protest. Many of its topics have been on the entrance traces of the homosexual liberation motion, within the ’60s, and the AIDS epidemic, within the ’80s.

The ebook’s gumdrop-bright portraits by Mx. Hanson have been all shot outdoor in full daylight to distinguish them from normal drag pictures, which is usually shot at bars or in studios. “For a lot of of them, drag is just not a daytime sport,” Mr. Antheus mentioned. “It was intimidating, however they got here round.”

Every 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 important to them, whereas others’ flowers have been chosen primarily based on the outfits they wore, or the situation of their picture shoot. The idea was not simply a visible aspect for the photographs.

“We wished to offer the ladies their flowers,” Mr. Antheus mentioned, utilizing the expression meaning appreciating family members whereas they’re nonetheless alive.

That sentiment proved prophetic. By the point of the ultimate sitting for the ebook, in September, 4 of its topics had died: Phatima Impolite, at 55; Lady Red Couture, at 43; the Goddess Bunny, at 61; and Tina Devore, at 67. “Dropping queens by way of the method,” Mr. Antheus mentioned, “actually solidified the significance that these are tales we have to get out.”

Mx. Hanson recalled Kelly Ray, 59, a drag queen from Durham, N.C., saying that collaborating within the undertaking stands out as the final vital factor the performer does. “That hit me proper within the coronary heart,” Mx. Hanson mentioned.

Although its creators noticed the ebook as an antidote to televised interpretations of drag, some contestants from the “Drag Race” franchise discovered their means 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. In line with Mr. Antheus, these connections exhibit that as we speak’s drag queens are half of a legacy that goes again many years.

He and Mx. Hanson see “Legends of Drag” as half of an evolving undertaking. There are extra drag artists to go to, extra tales to inform. “There may be a queen in Barcelona who’s 95 that I actually wish to meet,” Mx. Hanson mentioned. “I’ve a Google spreadsheet of 75 queens that I wish to work with,” unfold the world over “from Tulsa to Honolulu to Argentina.”

The final performer featured within the ebook is Simone, a transgender girl who doesn’t use the time period “drag queen” and declined to supply an age. (“We aren’t going there.”) Because the early ’90s, Simone has been recognized for performing throughout New York Metropolis, together with outdoor close to the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the location of a 1969 rebellion that proved to be a flash level within the modern L.G.B.T.Q. rights motion.

Simone, Mx. Hanson mentioned, “could be very instantly persevering with within the custom” 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 assume there are lots of people who truly do warrant a comparability to” Johnson, Mx. Hanson mentioned.

As for being named a legend? “It’s such a praise,” Simone mentioned. “Any woman could be amazed and enthusiastic about seeing her face in a ebook with such fabulous divas.”

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