This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – the final instalment on the 2020 Head On Photo Festival.
Check out the award winners and also Canadian photographer Pierre Dalpé’s evocative Wigstock. This exhibition showcases images from Dalpé’s four-year documentation of what was an annual event in New York City for almost 20 years. With reference to the 1969 Woodstock Festival, Wigstock was founded by RuPaul and Lady Bunny. I think Dalpé’s exhibition is a fitting way to end this year’s coverage on what is one of the best Head On festivals. Despite being online the festival has managed to create a sense of celebration and collegial spirit. No small feat.
Head On opened last Friday with an impressive online programme that has seen more than 50,000 participate from around the world. The impact of Covid-19 has had an unexpected outcome for the festival elevating its presence in the global photography landscape and allowing people to access content from afar. I usually spend a frantic opening weekend rushing to see as many exhibitions as possible, but this year I can at my leisure view a staggering number of shows from the confines of lockdown.
The online webinars have proven popular and as a participant they have been enormously enjoyable. On Sunday morning (Sydney-time) my conversation with photojournalist Renée C. Byer about her long-term project Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor drew an engaged audience of over 150. Can’t imagine that would have happened in the real-world (whatever that is). Sunday night the panel discussion on Australian Photojournalism which featured six photographers who are part of the Paper Tigers exhibition, drew a similar crowd. It’s exciting to think that while the pandemic has narrowed our lives in some respects, it has also opened new opportunities.
Head On continues until 17th May and there are events everyday. Webinars will be made available to watch online at a later date.
Head On Awards:
Pierre Dalpé’ – Wigstock
I met Pierre a few years ago at Head On. I asked him to pen some words about this series for today’s blog. Here are his thoughts, which give wonderful context and personal insight to his captivating black and white images:
“Wigstock was an eye-opening experience for me, not only as a photographer, but in terms of my evolution as a gay man. In 1991 I was studying at Concordia University in Montreal, working towards a Film Studies degree with a minor in Photography. Friends told me about a fabulous drag festival in New York City called Wigstock. The next year I headed to NYC on Labour Day weekend. NYC always does things on a grand scale and this was no exception. I remember arriving in Tompkins Square Park and thinking how this event was even bigger and more incredible than I thought it was going to be. I was overwhelmed. The park was like a magnet, attracting gender-bending queers and costumed youth from all over NYC and beyond. With my head full of art theory and images from the history of photography flashing through my mind, I channelled all of my influences and started what I had traveled all this way for: to document this extraordinary queer experience.
Wigstock was an annual outdoor drag festival that took place between 1985 and 2001 in various locations throughout Manhattan. Wigstock, whose name cheekily alludes to the 1969 Woodstock Festival, was founded by drag superstars RuPaul and Lady Bunny. Held every Labour Day weekend, the festival acted as an unofficial end of summer for NYC’s LGBTQ community.
I documented Wigstock from 1992-1995 at the height of its popularity and captured the fabulousness of drag and disguise in all its glorious forms. Wigstock included spectacular on-stage drag performances and musical acts, but the most compelling spectacle for me was the audience itself.
Mainstream pop culture was put through a gender blender by thousands of people in all sorts of cross-dressing drag, carnivalesque costumes, Halloween getups, DIY fashion, and fetish wear. It was breathtaking. Wigstock attendees illustrated an early 90’s queer aesthetic while critiquing mainstream culture by appropriating, remixing, and queering it: we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re fabulous. Get used to it, honey!
My experience of photographing and participating in Wigstock was transformative and eye opening for me as a young queer artist, and important in terms of my personal growth, as it caused me to reflect on my place in queer culture and queer history. Attending Wigstock was my first truly queer experience of queer culture and kinship. It was an opportunity for us to literally let our hair down together or stack it up three wigs high. With its inclusion of people from a multitude of backgrounds and communities, it seemed to reflect a fluidity of sexuality and gender as it featured, exposed, and celebrated a world of identities.
At a time when queer people were experiencing overwhelming anxiety, hate, and backlash because of the AIDS pandemic, Wigstock was a much needed opportunity for us to express joy, strength, courage, audacity, and pride.
I hope that my images of this time captures the energized and invigorated subjects who are representative of queers who went on to witness and make significant changes in the queer community in the years to follow. I feel privileged to have been a witness to and storyteller of this significant and important event that honoured LGBTQ people by celebrating us so spectacularly.”
Check out Wigstock online.