You know the old adage, “the best camera is the one you have with you”? It’s true. I got lucky and found these two shots as I was walking around the other day waiting to meet a friend for lunch.
They’re snaps with my iPhone. It was the camera I had with me at the time. And proof that it’s the photographer, not the camera, or the software, that makes the image.
I’ll be back in the neighborhood today after work with my Rolleiflex, and I’ll take them again. Different photos, different camera, different aspect ratio, so they’ll feel very different. I’ll try to remember to post them when they’re done.
No Gay Pride parade would be complete without drag queens, just as it would not be complete without a few Dykes on Bikes and some leathermen.
Drag takes on many forms – from “high art” female impersonation to wild genderfuck and anything in between. First, the “high art”. I use that term very loosely, but what I mean by that is this kind of drag aims to present the illusion that you are in fact looking at a woman. Granted, an exaggerated pastiche of a certain kind of woman, but the intent is to present an illusion that maybe-kinda-sorta-in-dim-light-and-a-disco-soundtrack could be believed. When in drag, these queens refer to themselves (or at least the characters they inhabit) in the feminine. Their presentation is not just appearance, though, but it is performance – singing, dancing, acting. While Miss Gay Virginia is not exactly seductive in her appearance, she’s got a title which means she can do more than slap on a wig and paint up a face.
A specialty in illusion drag is celebrity impersonation. Were it not 30 years on and on the streets of Washington DC instead of a movie lot, I could believe I’m looking at Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
Then you have non-professional drag queens like this one. I’ve seen her at other drag events like the High Heel Race before. She may be someone who qualifies as a transvestite, not a drag queen, and gets dressed up as a woman because she enjoys it and identifies with it. Definitely not a straight guy putting on a wig and a dress as a Halloween lark. She’s in many ways more believable than the pros because she isn’t painting her face to look good in stage lights.
Then there’s genderfuck. The general idea of genderfuck is playing around with, crossing, and even destroying preconceived norms of what any one gender is expected to conform to. Anything from some glitter, some makeup and a pair of purple fairy wings…
… to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters are a national (perhaps even international) organization that combines radical, politically charged drag (men with painted faces, beards, and nun’s habits, with drag names like Sister Imprudentia Vaginismus) and charitable fundraising and volunteer activity. They manage the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco every year, and the proceeds go to HIV/AIDS charities.
This is by no means a complete or exhaustive survey of what drag is, or the practitioners at the parade this year. And if you ask 10 drag queens what drag means, you’ll come up with at least 20 answers, depending on how many cocktails they’ve had before you ask.
The DC Gay Pride Parade always features a political contingent. This year being an off-year for elections, we saw fewer than usual (last time it seemed like there were an interminable array of political contingents – virtually everyone running for office in DC, suburban Maryland and suburban Virginia was in the parade). I captured two notable entries – V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of Vermont and the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s representative in Congress (who can’t vote on anything because DC isn’t a state). She’s always at the Pride march every single year, and has been for as long as I can remember (and I’ve been attending these things for close on 25 years now).
I’ll put the Boy Scouts under the political banner only because of the ongoing controversy surrounding gay scouting that has dragged on far too long.
What a sign of change in the parade – when I first started attending, there were virtually no children to be seen anywhere, either in the parade itself or even in the audience. Now, not only do you have married gay couples marching, you have married gay couples with kids, and the friends of their kids and the parents of the friends of their kids marching with them. This was I believe the PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays) contingent, with parents and kids just being parents and kids.
Many city agencies march in the parade. It’s not quite San Francisco, where the Fire, Police, and even the Sanitation departments have contingents (the sanitation workers ride those little ride-behind sidewalk sweepers that look kind of like lobsters with brushes for claws). But hey, this year we had the DC Public Library giving out beads!
And the DC Public Schools had a very large contingent of kids of all genders, gender expressions and sexual orientations marching with their gay and ally teachers. I think it’s terrific when kids are allowed to express themselves and be who they are with pride – marching in the parade means that they’re less likely to end up on the street, homeless, addicted and practicing survival prostitution.
The United States Military had a very strong presence – each major branch of the service marched, and the grouping was led by a uniformed color guard. Here are some very cute sailors in sailor suits.
What gay pride parade would be complete without a float (or ten) of scantily clad go-go boys drenched in glitter, gyrating to a disco beat? Pride has moved upscale with corporate presences from Fortune 500 companies (Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton, and here, Hilton Hotels), and they’re not afraid to get their sexy on. Twenty years ago, you’d not have seen any of these groups.
Of course, it’s the local businesses that are willing to go all-out in the just-slightly-naughty department. Nellie’s Sports Bar had quite the collection of go-go boys.
Another thing a Pride parade wouldn’t be complete without: the Leather contingent. Here are four leathermen hanging out in front of the West Elm furniture store by the “Twinks and Otters and Bears, oh my!” sign, tempting passersby to shop for a chair and a sling…
And the perennial favorite, always the first contingent in the parade, Dykes on Bikes.
Boy (I don’t know her real name, but Boy is what she goes by) is a multiple sash winner in leather contests, and has been a fixture around the DC area for a very long time. She’s the one driving the bike.
Another lesbian couple (I’m assuming, they could be just friends) riding in the parade:
And to cap it off, a row of Bykes (Dykes, Bikes… Bykes, get it?) parked outside a restaurant on 14th Street at the end of the parade route.
Here are some photos from yesterday’s Gay Pride Parade. These were faces in the crowd of people watching the parade.
This first picture is the reason why we need gay pride parades still – I was standing on the curb, waiting for the parade to arrive, and this woman carrying this sweet little girl came up to me and said, “She’s a Pride baby – she needs her picture taken! Take her picture, she’s a Pride baby!”. When I put the camera to my eye to compose the photo, the mother turned her head so her face would not appear in the photo, only the little girl’s.
These guys saw me standing with my camera and approached, asking to be photographed. They asked me where the photos were going to be used – “Will these be in the New York Times?” I told them I’m shooting for this blog, and they said “you can use our photos anywhere!”. I hope they find this photo and enjoy it!
I don’t know her name or if she is in fact a mother, but I’m calling her Pride Mama for all her ribbons and beads.
This is my friend, Sak Pollert, who owns Rice restaurant on 14th Street (where I parked myself to watch the parade, as the restaurant is on the shady side of the street in the afternoon when the parade is passing).
One of the waitresses at Rice – she put a rainbow flag in her hair like a chopstick.
I think this guy is one of the busboys/kitchen staff at Rice, out to watch the parade. I loved his Grumpy Cat T-shirt.
I don’t think this guy actually had anything to do with the goat in a trench coat sign behind him (I think it belongs to the guy in the black t-shirt to his left). When he saw me composing the image, he straightened up, made eye contact, and posed.
This young lady was standing next to me for a while, and I wanted to get a photo of the shirt with that caption.
This gentleman was all decked out in rainbow finery (if you call tons of sequins ‘finery’). He was certainly in the spirit of the day! Not visible except by interpolation were his six-inch platform heels.
I titled this one “Apres Parade” because I caught these two as we were all leaving the parade, heading home after a long, hot, fun day.
This was another experiment photographically. I shot the whole parade using my Helios 85mm f1.5 lens. This is the second time I’ve shot the parade with this lens – I did it for the first time the last time I photographed the Pride parade, and the lens was brand new to me then. It’s a bit of an oddity because it’s manual focus and it uses a pre-set aperture – unlike modern all-automatic lenses, this one you have to tell it to stop down the aperture on the lens by turning a separate ring. The lens has a particular signature to its look – when focused and configured properly, it produces a “swirly” background (most visible in the “Apres Parade” image in this post, and several others (Bright Wig, Bike and Miss Gay Virginia) in an upcoming post. The lens is big, heavy, a bit slow to use, especially because of the aperture mechanism, and exposures are sometimes a little off because there is no communication between the lens, camera, and flash. The “swirl” is something I’m still debating if I like. I might need to just shoot more with it to decide.
This weekend was the next-to-last session of the Intro to Large Format Photography class I’m teaching at Glen Echo. As a treat, I broke out some of the last remaining sheets of Polaroid Type 55 I have in my personal stash. We had a lot of fun setting up portraits and posing for each other. One of my students even brought along his 6×17 panoramic camera and took a couple frames of all of us in the studio together – a couple were serious, and one was very silly (I gave someone next to me bunny-ears).
We covered the fundamentals of not only how to use a view camera for portraiture (movements – not many – focusing, bellows extension factor, lens selection) but also basic studio lighting. Given that we were limited on time and had lesson objectives to cover, I dictated the lighting setup with just a main and a fill, driven off my Calumet Elite 2400 W/S unit. It’s a lot of power for just 4×5, but I wanted to give people a real studio experience (that and the moonlights I would have used that are at the school are at the moment buried in the storage closet under dozens of boxes from the exhibits currently hanging in the gallery space).
We rigged a softbox on the main light and an umbrella on the fill. The softbox was camera left, and the fill was beside the camera. I used a 240mm Docter Optics f9 Apo-Germinar as my lens because the focal length is a nice one for studio portraiture (not too long, but not too wide either), it’s mounted on a lens board to fit my Sinar (some of my other portrait lenses are on different lens boards), and the shutter has good working flash sync (some of my other portrait lenses are in archaic shutters that don’t have reliable flash syncs – and yes, I’ve had them overhauled but they still don’t work 100% of the time). f9 is a bit dim for a traditional portrait lens, but I think this one produced outstanding results (further confirmation that that lens was a phenomenal buy and well worth every penny).
Polaroid Type 55, for those who are unfamiliar, was an instant film that produced both a positive print and a re-useable negative. Artists have loved the negatives not only for the incredibly fine grain and sharp detail, but for the artifacts at the edges that the Polaroid process produced. It hasn’t been made since 2008, so any Type 55 anyone is using is old stock. There is hope on the horizon for a replacement as a group called “New55″ is creating their own improved version. One of the challenges of the original Polaroid Type 55 was that the negative film and the print were not equally sensitive, so you had to decide if you wanted a good print or a good negative – a good print gave you an underexposed negative and a good negative gave you a washed-out print. New55 will have one advantage over the old stuff – the instant print and the negative will be speed-matched so you won’t have to expose for either a good print or a good negative.
I can tell from the negatives that my Type 55, which outdated in 2006, is starting to get a little long in the tooth, as they have begun to lose some contrast. I’ve tweaked it a fair bit in Photoshop to get these negative scans to look good. I’ll try printing them in the darkroom and see what I can do with them – they may print much better than they scan.
Here are some behind-the-scenes shots, taken by one of my students.