The children of Atlanta aren’t just fabulous. They’re legendary.
That’s the word from the five Atlanta photographers in the exhibition “Legendary Children,” which opens Sunday, September 1, at Gallery 1526. Their more than 100 images in the show document the city’s young drag performers, whose personas represent a singular mash-up of sensibilities: the glamorous and the absurd, outsider art and burlesque, Southern Gothic and punk rock, gutter trash and urban chic.
It’s an Atlanta aesthetic that spawned such drag legends as RuPaul and Lady Bunny a generation ago, and now, as photographer Blane Bussey, one of the show’s organizers, puts it, it’s time for Atlanta to meet its new legendary children.
“I think there’s something really interesting and cool going on in the drag scene in Atlanta,” says the photographer known as Kevin O. He says the photographers in the show — Bussey, Jon Dean, Blake England, Matthew Terrell and himself — began taking pictures of their subjects independently but found their paths crossing so often that they eventually decided to organize a group show of their work.
The title comes from the classic documentary cult film “Paris Is Burning,” about 1980s drag balls in New York City. In that movie, veteran drag queens are known as “legends” while younger ones are referred to as “legendary children.”
The photographers have radically different styles. Bussey shoots his subjects in incongruous places, Dean works primarily in the studio with projected backgrounds, and Terrell uses a double-exposure process on real film. England and Kevin O take a more documentary approach. Taken as a whole, however, the show broadly stakes out what’s singular about the new generation of Atlanta drag performers.
“It was getting to be the same queens everywhere,” says Kryean Kally, one of the 10 young drag queens whose images appear in the show. “You’re seeing a change. We wanted to explore the art of drag and make it something more. . . . What you see here in Atlanta isn’t the same drag you’ll see everywhere else in the world. It’s unique.”
“I think because Atlanta is a smaller town and more relaxed, it’s easier to be experimental and fun,” Terrell says. “When RuPaul was here in the early ’80s, she was concerned not just with going to the drag shows and looking beautiful and perfect, but with asking, ‘What can I do that no one’s seen before?’ I see that once again with this generation.”
The photographers boast that “Legendary Children” will be the only event in the prestigious Atlanta Celebrates Photography series that will include a live drag show: the exhibition’s closing reception, on September 28 from 7 to 11 p.m., will feature performances from all 10 queens.
The exhibition is a modest undertaking: Gallery 1526 is a rental gallery, and the photographers funded their own work via Kickstarter. But, even before it’s opening, the show has already garnered national buzz: The Huffington Post and Out magazine, World of Wonder, the blog newnownext and the hugely popular and influential webzine Vice all have written about it.
Violet Chachki, whose burlesque image appears in many of the pictures, sums it up neatly: “If you want something queer, crazy and Southern, this will be the stop for you.”
View more photos from the exhibit here.