Drag Queen 1

Drag Queen 1480
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2 Essays

  1. Dsantoro says:

    This photograph of a drag queen, titled ‘Drag Queen 1’, is one of only a few portraits, and one of even fewer posed portraits in Rachel Tanur’s collection. Here, the subject, a woman dressed provocatively in a towel wrap and stockings, locks her gaze with Tanur’s. In many of Tanur’s photos, she seems drawn to meaning making in the engagements of everyday life, at the market or the bus station. Likewise, the other drag queen photos in the gallery capture the everydayness of life within the extraordinary. This portrait stands out as compelling, electric, yet ultimately unresolved. Is this a moment stolen from the carnivalesque celebrations of New York City’s gay pride parade? Did Rachel ask her to pose or was she just standing there with her foot kicked up on the wheel just so? Were there other photographers there at the same time? It is hard not to imagine the woman featured here shouting to a spontaneous street audience, maybe to Rachel herself: “hey, look at me! Take my picture!”
    The pose itself frames some fascinating contradictions. The drag queen is outside but wearing inside attire; dressed in stockings, heels, and carrying a purse, her towel might unravel at any moment. Most compellingly, she stands in front of an 18wheeler truck, her stockinged leg perched on its oversized tire. Here lies the acute tension of traditional femininity and masculinity in one space. Even more curious is how upon further examination, one can see the softened shadowed silhouette of the truck driver, who appears to be amused by the scene unfolding—he may be looking at the drag queen but it appears he is engaged by the interaction between Tanur and the drag queen’s locked gazes.
    This photograph also engages with the spectator’s notions of gender conformity and performance. Long standing theoretical scholarship about drag queen cultural identities usually pose two different but related questions: Do drag queens reinforce traditional notions of gender through their hyper feminized dress, or are drag queens contesting and resisting hegemonic gender roles through performance, by revealing it all to be a costume one dons. “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender, Judith Butler (1990) asserts, “identity is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results.” ( p 25)
    In addition to offering a powerful gender critique, this image is connected to theoretical questions I explored in my own photo: What makes a body legible, and who is in control of that legibility? Are our familiar scripts of gender expectations, confinements, or performances as in Goffman’s ‘dramaturgical” mode of everyday life? Finally, this photo re-centers the body as a site of analysis. Many of Tanur’s photos showcase people in labor, working in markets, but here, (like at a second line parade) we are engaged in the realm of pleasure, an unbridled enjoyment and celebration of the body.

    Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, New York.
    Goffman, Erving (1956) Presentation of self in Everyday Life. Anchor Books, New York.
    Rupp, L. J., Shapiro, E. I., & Taylor, V. (2010). “Drag queens and drag kings: The difference gender makes”. Sexualities, 13, 275–294.

  2. brinnan says:

    The photograph Drag Queen 1 is one of Rachel’s more playful works, documenting the confident bravado of a Drag Queen striking a pose for the camera. This photograph engages the viewer, eliciting a humorous response—a subject who is clearly confident with how he/she defies social norms. Reminiscent of Diane Arbus’s careful typology of “freaks” and “outsiders,” Rachel’s photograph differs from Arbus’s work by allowing the subject to take the power and steal the show.

    Dressed in only a towel, stockings, and jewelry, this drag queen confidently plants his/her high heels upon the tires of a truck, whose driver can’t help but chuckle and grin at the display. The drag queen’s eyes are masked behind sunglasses, and a silver purse hangs casually at her elbow. The unexpected scene is perhaps what makes this photograph both striking and endearing— the tongue-in-cheek result of a drag queen walking the streets of a city with a towel wrapped around his/her head, flaunting a confidence and flair of individual expression. Dressed in pure white and peering coyly over one shoulder, the sunglasses obscure us from reading his/her face completely. This adds to the intrigue, causing us to further invest in the unfinished story being told by this character, cleverly framed through Rachel’s composition and by the boxy, off-white truck filling the frame.

    The success of this photograph lies in the unexpected nature of both the setting and the subject-- the individual is a person “out of place” (Douglas 1966). Society is carefully built upon and regulated by norms of conduct, and when groups adhere to these codes they form bonds of solidarity and culture (Davis 1949).

    By breaking social norms of gender through cross-dressing, in addition to breaking social norms of public dress and attire, this drag queen has burst out of social constraints and created a type of liminality in which to exist and draw the attention of others. Like other people “out of place” in society—the type of people who may have found themselves behind Diane Arbus’s camera—this individual stands out as someone who “doesn’t belong.” This is due to breakage of the careful webs of social norms that regulate society. However, even more striking than the subject is the confidence and boldness with which he/she bursts free from those social norms.

    While documentary in nature, this photograph reads as though it is one of Richard Avedon’s famously unexpected fashion portraits. Instead of Avedon posing a model in front of elephants in an effort to sell gowns, this is a drag queen proudly dressed in a towel, posing in front of an ordinary truck; perhaps Rachel saw it as a way to sell the viewer on the idea that there is beauty in nonconformity. While societies may create rules and norms, there will always be diversity, there will always be a person “out of place” who refuses to adhere to those regulations. Though a society’s culture plays a significant role, human identity is largely shaped by human agency and expression, and individuals who aren’t afraid to break boundaries are able to navigate life in an “increasingly individualistic, complex, and chaotic world” (Côté 1996).

    Douglas, Mary. Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. Routledge, 2003.

    Davis, Kingsley. "Human society." (1949).

    Côté, James E. "Sociological perspectives on identity formation: The culture–identity link and identity capital." Journal of adolescence 19, no. 5 (1996): 417-428.