Reviews

LGBTQ People at Home, at Ease

Photos courtesy of LucieFoundation.org

Tom Atwood's Kings & Queens in Their Castles celebrates the diversity of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community with a series of beautiful portraits of people in their homes.


Kings & Queens in Their Castles

Publisher: Damiani
Length: 144 pages
Author: Tom Atwood
Price: $45.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-04
Amazon

Here in America, we like to say that a man’s home is his castle. The basic meaning of that phrase is that you are entitled to privacy and security in your own home, and that neither the law nor anyone else is allowed to interfere with either without substantial reason.

A secondary meaning is also relevant: whatever role a man plays in the world, whether he’s CEO of a corporation or hawks candy on the subway, within his own home he’s the master of all he surveys. Unfortunately, not everyone has enjoyed these privileges, as the most basic rights of privacy and security have often been denied to gay, lesbian, and transgender people, while traditional gender roles have long worked to deny women the right to claim ownership of their own lives, let alone their own households.

Things have gotten better recently, as laws have been changed to remove some of the bias against sexual and gender minorities and a younger generation of Americans seems far less concerned with policing people’s private lives than was the case in, say, my parent’s generation. Even before these changes, however, some gay, lesbian, and transgender men and women have simply claimed the privileges granted without question to heterosexual men and created their own castles, where they have chosen to live out their own definition of what it means to be a king or a queen.

"I decided to photograph LGBTQ Americans because I felt there was a need for a contemplative photo series of the community," writes Atwood, "Many LGTBQ series depict scantily-clothed young subjects romping through the forest or lounging on the beach. There was a need for a series highlighting our manifold personalities and backgrounds. And I wanted to create a body of work that would strengthen the identity of and be a source of pride for the LGBTQ community, as well as feature role models."

Kings & Queens in Their Castles, a large-scale photography book by Tom Atwood, celebrates the diversity of the gay, lesbian and transgender community today through portraits of some of its members in their homes. “Home” is broadly defined in this book -- sometimes the subjects are literally inside a house, and at other times they're outdoors, perhaps seated on a porch swing or working in their garden or, in the case of Mary Celley and Sue Williams of Brooklyn, Wisconsin, tending to their bees.

The portraits in Kings & Queens in Their Castles are about as different from conventional studio portraits as they can be. The photos are not shot in a neutral or idealized studio environment, but in whatever aspect of their home environment best represents them. While in conventional portraiture emphasis is usually placed on the person, particularly on his or her face, in this collection Atwood uses a wide-angle lens and deep depth of field to give equal emphasis to the human subject(s) and their environment. Many of the subjects are shown in full figure, sometimes while looking away from the camera, and they’re shown in a variety of positions within the photos, not centered in the frame as is typical of a conventional portrait.

Atwood captures a remarkable feeling of naturalness in many of these portraits, although I suspect that what looks casual is, in fact, the result of a lot of hard work accompanied by reflection and selection. Other portraits are posed for maximum symbolic value, to the point where they could serve as writing prompts or source material for essays on the symbolic meaning of the pose selected and objects included.

Actor Leslie Jordan (Sordid Lives, Will and Grace) appears even more diminutive than he does in real life and seems to be overwhelmed by the task of continuing to load the open dishwasher before him. Is his apparent fatigue the result of a late-night party or just too much indulgence in junk food (he holds an open pack of tortilla chips and an empty salsa container)? And inquiring minds want to know, does Jordan really have an Oriental rug in his kitchen and store his Emmy on the kitchen counter? Author John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The City of Falling Angels, in contrast, sits on his couch in a sparely elegant New York City townhome that screams “successful writer lives here!”, tastefully decorated in earth tones and with a classic city street scene visible through a mullioned window.

Alan Cumming

The publication of Kings & Queens in Their Castles is the culmination of 15 years of work by Atwood, during which time he photographed over 350 subjects at home. Over 160 of those subjects are featured in this book, including about 60 celebrities, such as Alan Cumming, George Takei, and Alison Bechdel. Many other portraits feature people you’ve probably never heard of, like Georgetown student and disability activist Lydia Brown, photographed in her dorm room, farmer Justin Alexander Wade, photographed taking a smoke break in Edgefield, South Carolina, and manufacturing worker Russ Duncan, photographed in his dining room in Kansas City, Missouri.

Atwood, recipient of a number of awards including Photographer of the Year from London’s Worldwide Photography Gala Awards, is a master of his craft, and has produced a series of artistically pleasing photographs that also capture the essence of each subject. Kings & Queens in Their Castles is a coffee table book for our time, celebrating the diversity of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community and offering inspiration and hope to people who may not be sure the world has a place for them.

This book is also pervaded by a sense of fun, even camp, as is evident in the identification of some of the individuals (example: Holly Taylor is identified as a “compost maven”). The result is a beautiful book that’s both a serious work of art and a lot of fun to browse through.

George Takei

8

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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