Artist Spotlight: Gerard H. Gaskin

By Christopher Harrity

Originally published on Advocate.com November 25 2013 6:00 AM ET

Gerard H. Gaskin’s radiant color and black-and-white photographs take you inside the culture of house balls — popularized by the 1990 American documentary film, Paris Is Burning, directed by Jennie Livingston. In this exuberant world of artistry and self-fashioning, people often marginalized for being who they are can flaunt and celebrate their most vibrant, spectacular selves.

The pageants happen at night in small halls all over the country where members of “houses” — the House of Blahnik, the House of Xtravaganza — “walk” in a competition for trophies in categories based on costume, attitude, dance moves, and “realness.” Gaskin says the members "perform what they wish these cities could be.”

“The balls are a celebration of black and Latino urban gay life," writes Gaskin. "They were born in Harlem out of a need for black and Latino gays to have a safe space to express themselves."

Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene is a winner of the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. It is composed of photos taken at events in the New York area, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. and is a collaboration between Gaskin, a camera-laden outsider who has been attending balls for 20 years, and the house members who let him enter the intimate world of ball culture.

"Women and men become fluid, interchangeable points of departure and reference, disrupting the notion of a fixed and rigid gender and sexual self," he explains. "My images try to show a more personal and intimate beauty, pride, dignity, courage, and grace that have been painfully challenged by mainstream society."

To see these original works, visit the exhibition "Legend" at the W New York to commemorate World AIDS Day and in support of Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), an organization providing social care for at-risk LGBT youth across New York City. For information on how to get involved go here.

December 1st – 31st 2013
The Living Room, W New York, 541 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022
wnewyork.com/legends
@WHotelsNYC #WLegends

For more information: Duke University Press in association with CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies. View Gaskin's web site.

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