The concept 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 befell 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 two, 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 scarcity 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 function 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 Rude, then 51; Carla Gay, then 54; Renita Valdez, then 59; and Mutha Chucka, then 56 — and later pitched the challenge to Sasha Velour, the drag artist and winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 9, who on the time was placing collectively the fourth difficulty of Velour: The Drag Magazine. But the difficulty by no means made it to print.
After a yr of sitting on the fabric, Mx. Hanson pitched it to a good friend at Vogue, which revealed the pictures with an essay on its web site in April 2019. Soon after, The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on Phatima Rude, citing the Vogue piece. “Once it ran on the Vogue web site, we realized there was a starvation for it,” Mr. Antheus mentioned, and the 2 determined to broaden the challenge right into a e book.
Both say they have been compelled by an urgency to seize the tales of an older era earlier than it was too late, in addition to a want to supply a corrective to the a lot youthful and camera-ready model of drag that has entered fashionable tradition by way of tv exhibits akin to “Drag Race,” which not too long ago concluded its 14th season.
“Some queens really feel slighted by the slim class of drag offered on TV,” Mx. Hanson mentioned. The undeniable fact that “there are sufficient queens in America to even populate that many seasons of ‘Drag Race,’” Mx. Hanson added, “is due to 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 needed to speak to the punks and the pageant ladies and the artwork queens,” Mx. Hanson mentioned, “to seize that lovely variety inside so many various communities.”
Those 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 e book’s gumdrop-bright portraits by Mx. Hanson have been all shot open air in full daylight to distinguish them from commonplace drag images, which is usually shot at bars or in studios. “For lots of them, drag will not be a daytime sport,” Mr. Antheus mentioned. “It was intimidating, however they got here round.”
Each performer, all of whom obtained a mannequin charge 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 based mostly on the outfits they wore, or the situation of their picture shoot. The idea was not only a visible component for the pictures.
“We needed to offer the women their flowers,” Mr. Antheus mentioned, utilizing the expression which means appreciating family members whereas they’re nonetheless alive.
That sentiment proved prophetic. By the time of the ultimate sitting for the e book, in September, 4 of its topics had died: Phatima Rude, at 55; Lady Red Couture, at 43; the Goddess Bunny, at 61; and Tina Devore, at 67. “Losing queens via 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 challenge could be the final essential factor the performer does. “That hit me proper within the coronary heart,” Mx. Hanson mentioned.
Though its creators noticed the e book as an antidote to televised interpretations of drag, some contestants from the “Drag Race” franchise discovered their method 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. According to Mr. Antheus, these connections display that immediately’s drag queens are a part of a legacy that goes again many years.
He and Mx. Hanson see “Legends of Drag” as a part of an evolving challenge. There are extra drag artists to go to, extra tales to inform. “There is 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 internationally “from Tulsa to Honolulu to Argentina.”
The final performer featured within the e book is Simone, a transgender lady who doesn’t use the time period “drag queen” and declined to offer an age. (“We will not be going there.”) Since the early ’90s, Simone has been identified for performing throughout New York City, together with open air 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, “may 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 suppose there are various people who really do warrant a comparability to” Johnson, Mx. Hanson mentioned.
As for being named a legend? “It’s such a praise,” Simone mentioned. “Any lady could be amazed and enthusiastic about seeing her face in a e book with such fabulous divas.”