Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene
Gerard H. Gaskin’s radiant color and black-and-white photographs take us inside the culture of house balls, underground events where gay and transgender men and women, mostly African American and Latino, come together to see and be seen. At balls, high-spirited late-night pageants, members of particular “houses”—the House of Blahnik, the House of Xtravaganza—“walk,” competing for trophies in categories based on costume, attitude, dance moves, and “realness.” 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.
From the quiet backstage to the shimmering energies of the runway to the electricity of the crowd, Gaskin’s photographs take us to the ball. Legendary, comprised of photos taken at events in the New York City area, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Washington, D.C., is a collaboration between Gaskin, a camera-laden observer who has been attending balls for twenty years, and the house members who let him enter the intimate world of ball culture. In addition to an introduction by Deborah Willis, Legendary includes an essay, “The Queer Undercommons,” by Frank Roberts.
“Gaskin’s awareness of the effect the performers have on the audience is a crucial aspect of his vision. Through his lens, he conveys the showmanship these actors and artists exude, their knowingness of the spectacle created by their flair. . . . He shows us the power the performers have to reveal themselves through spectacle, to challenge viewers to recognize this display of selfhood. Regardless of our walks of life, we are all looking for safe spaces to express ourselves. Legendary allows us to bear witness to a group of people who are courageous enough to create their safe space. They inherently know that life is a dance and that they are the dancers. . . . In search of beauty, Gaskin’s photographs open our eyes to an extraordinary community of artists who are performing beauty.”