Beautiful boys: Leland Bobbé's "Half-Drag" puts gender identity in the spotlight
Leland Bobbé’s latest photographic series is pushing the cultural theory of camp — best addressed by Susan Sontag — a step further. “Half-Drag… A Different Kind of Beauty” provides us with an up-close and intimate look at the transformation process gay drag queen performers undergo to create their stage personalities. It also reveals the humanity that lies beneath the surface.
With names like Sherry Vine, Heidi Glüm and Kitten Withawhip, it’s very easy to forget the gender-at-birth of these over-the-top personalities. Which is why Bobbé’s portrait series is so compelling and sexy in its own right. Documenting the transformation process allows viewers the chance to go behind the veil to see the real people behind them. For Bobbé, dealing with two people in one body on set got confusing. “I decided it was easier just to call them by their drag names,” he tells us, “because they were drag queens and their drag names were so colorful.”
For many artists, creating an alternate personality is a tool to escape — and maintain sanity. David Bowie created characters like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Lady Gaga cross-dresses and otherwise self-transforms, and Nicki Minaj raps as a man named Roman. But for the subjects of “Half-Drag,” those alter-egos are cherished works of art not easily cast aside for the sake of something new. “When many of them referred to their drag persona, they would do so in the third person, as a character they’ve created,” Bobbé explains. “In drag, I think they usually portray a very strong, powerful version of their female side.” Whether female or outlandishly campy and vocal, their desire to have both sides of their identity portrayed at the same time exhibits dedication to their art. They’re performers, after all, and anyone in showbiz will tell you it takes dedication every day just to make it.
The perfect split in each portrait divides and confuses what we consider conventions of beauty in female and male identities. As Bobbé presents both in a single person simultaneously, you may find your brain reevaluating or questioning what you took for granted. After all, dude looks like a lady.
Bobbé has photographed 45 drag queens thus far; the full gallery can be seen on his website. As to the fight for equal rights in the LGBTQ community, Bobbé says, “I think the role of art is to provoke thought. If my “Half-Drag” series can lead to discussions about gender and gender-fluidity I think that’s great.” And if anyone is uncomfortable with the material of his series, or the lifestyle of his subjects, Bobbé is quick and to the point: “Get over it!”
Photos: © Leland Bobbé