17 Elegant and Disturbing Photos by Derick Whitson
By Christopher Harrity
Whitson draws a line connecting early blackface with current art drag.
Derick Whitson's images are lavish and a little disturbing. His goal in his imagery is best understood by his own statement:
“Located in Holy Trinity Church lies a rendering of Joseph Grimaldi, considered to pioneer circus clowning in London, England. In the 18th Century Grimaldi performed in blackface and white face. Blackface subsided, while white face remains as the main representation of clowning. Between 1830 - 1910, across the U.S., there were performances of minstrel shows, becoming mainstream by 1848. The minstrel shows lampooned black individuals with modern stereotypes. William Shakespeare’s Othello is the most famous example of white males performing in both gendered roles and in blackface. Shakespeare also employed jesters and clowns with the company of actors, Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
“1980s and early ’90s we have a resurgence of the Club Kid Culture scene, that was comprised of wealthy white individuals, that then leads us to contemporary platforms like Rupaul’s Drag Race. As a spectator of such platforms and histories, levels of performance and masking are metaphoric representations of the repression of race and gender. The white clown face is blackface in disguise. Blackface which originated through clowning, created new stereotypes and perpetuated mistreatment and racist behaviors years to come.
“There are pioneers, subcultures, and individuals that are transforming, and questioning the roles of identity through race in makeup, gender through costuming, and humor/entertainment through pain. The different levels of engagement and infuence hold a large amount of information in standards of beauty traced from all over the world. I use photography to create a new form of identification through methods of masking. This is a form of representation, as an explorative generation of power through image making. There’s a need to deconstruct ideologies based on appearance through imagery. I am dissecting the levels of masking. This photographic amalgamation is political, subversive, and affrmative imagery that forms a racial and gender non-conforming empathetic utopia.
“During the course of the past two years I have been working on a new project titled “Sugar (Chapter II)”. “Sugar (Chapter II)” is a series of photographs and video that will be displayed inside a full colored installation. Created are staged photographs that are in response to my current location. I have most recently been living in Galveston, Texas to connect myself to origins of the slave trade in southern culture. I have been meeting with the Galveston Historical Foundation, in order to create new narrative photographs that are connecting individuals that have come before me in this city, this is connecting me to the history of slavery, natural disasters, and minstrel shows.
All images in this gallery from “Sugar (Chapter II)”. Read more about Derick Whitson below.
Derick Whitson (b. 1991, Mansfield, Ohio) lives and works in New York City. He earned his MFA at Columbia University and BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design. He has been working within the realms of photography, video, and performance. Whitson’s work has been published in Miami New Times, Huffington Post, and The Advocate Magazine. Whitson has participated in many residencies across the U.S., including programs at Mass MoCA, Thee Fountainhead (Miami), and the AICAD/New York Studio Residency Program. His work has been exhibited at The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins.