New York-based photographer Jeremy Kost has been a fixture on the downtown club scene for years. Kost is a Polaroid pro and is known for his pics of beautiful boys and some of the most popular drag queens around.
In his latest book, Like One Of Your French Girls, Kost dives into his archives and breathes new life into 66 Polaroids of queens like Sharon Needles and Alaska by painting over them with colorful pastels that match the sunny scenarios the queens are caught in.
Kost sat down with NewNowNext to discuss his new book, his favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, and why he thinks Sharon Needles changed the show forever.
How long have you been working with drag queens?
It’s something that’s been part of my practice as an artist since 2001. The images in the book with the exception of four all come from the archives, mostly between 2009 and 2012. The painted images are my revisitation of archive material from when I was making collages with Sharon, Alaska, detox and all those kids. For me, I stopped shooting queens at the end of 2012 up until spring of last year, that’s when I found a renewed inspiration to collaborate with drag queens.
This book was to remind and educate people that I am not somebody who just jumped on the [drag] bandwagon. I’ve been there since Drag Race was on Logo and was struggling for ratings. While it started to change with Sharon’s season, I was working with her three years before she was even on the show.
In the book your pictures of the queens are all out in the daylight. Were they hesitant to be photographed during the day, since they mostly work in nightclubs and bars?
Well, I think back then their schedules were more conducive in creating art for arts’ sake. Now I think that they are so over scheduled and so overbooked that the idea of doing makeup during the day when they’ve already been doing it five or six nights a week is gut-wrenching for a lot of them.
Historically as my work transitioned from a club to a more conceptual place, a big part of it was exploring this idea what does it mean to take a queen out of a nightclub? Then it becomes more about performance and identity and this question of becoming whether this queen exists like this on a daily basis or just a costume character. Even in 2012, even if you saw a drag queen in a nightclub it wasn’t so shocking anymore. But when you remove them from that situation then it starts to create different questions and narratives.
Do you have a favorite Drag Race contestant?
To be honest I never watched it until Sharon was on. When Sharon told me that she submitted a tape I was sort of “what are you doing? It’s so cheesy, why would you do this?” I was totally wrong. I’m happy to admit I was wrong. Sharon made it clear that it wasn’t just about being pretty, it could be cool and it could be provocative. It could be outside of the norm of what the show was before. I think she changed it for the better in a dramatic way.
She elevated it…
I think she just transformed it. Being weird and cool and dark and moody and art became okay. So do I have a favorite? I have different experiences with all of them, I hesitate to say any one of them is a favorite, but I do quite love my collaborations with Detox, Sharon and Raja. They are all quite special in their own way. I make it a rule both with queens and dudes to never say how much I like working with someone or dislike working with someone. I just let the pictures speak for themselves.
Check out Kost’s website to purchase a copy of Like One Of Your French Girls.