Intimacy. Curiosity. Identity.
Photographer Tom Atwood explores all of these themes and others in his new book, Kings and Queens in Their Castles, due out in March. Atwood's inspiration came from myriad sources. "Many LGBTQ photo series depict scantily-clothed young subjects romping through the forest or lounging on the beach. I wanted something else that would strengthen the identity of and be a source of pride for the LGBTQ community, as well as feature role models," said Atwood.
The book features more than 160 LGBTQ individuals in their most holy of holies: their homes. Atwood spent thousands of hours of research, months of travel on the road and even more time looking for people to photograph and all of them in or around their homes. "I wanted to show people as they really are and show how other LGBTQ people live their lives," said Atwood.
In more than 30 different states, readers get to see not only high-profile LGBTQ celebrities, politicians and artists, but also folks like Russ Duncan, a worker from Missouri, or New York retiree Tish Touchette or Utah bartender Cortnee Ponton. These portraits are not the Olan Mills, side-gazing, superimposed variety; Atwood needed them to be different and more holistic. "Stylistically, portraits focus on the person, but I wanted to blend architecture, environment and the person in one, rich setting," said Atwood.
Looking into someone's home, looking at their mess, one gets the feeling that perhaps even the biggest LGBTQ stars are not that different from any of us. Atwood wanted it that way, saying, "I specifically told the subjects not to clean. I wanted their stuff, whatever that was, strewn everywhere."
Most surprising are the kinds of spaces people lived in and with what they chose to adorn their homes. Questions were always nagging: Is this the person or the persona? Is it a projection of who they want to be?
Some of the subjects live in mobile homes, in their cars or in mid-century modern wonderlands. Many of the subjects appear in homes that seem to be decorated with countless portraits of themselves. Atwood added, "It seemed a lot of the reality TV stars were interested in their own portraits." One does get the sense that the cult of personality is still alive and well in the gay community. But there is no commentary from Atwood. One is simply given the image and is asked to see what they see. "I wanted to bring in lots of detail. Some of the images are filled with humor and subtle metaphor," replied Atwood.
Also patently obvious is the sheer quantity of gay men and women who find their profession to be a creative one. Artists, writers, musicians, designers, stage and screen performers, and drag queens all feature prominently in Kings and Queens. Atwood said, "It seemed that the gay men in particular had a flair for design. I would say some even bordered near fantasy or camp." His artist's statement accompanying the work notes, "Ultimately, I record the personal landscapes of these subjects for them to become works of art in their own right. With elements of both formal portraiture and informal snapshots, my images attempt to dance the line between beauty and chaos, sometimes simultaneously comforting and unsettling."
Atwood grew up in rural Vermont and there is a very clear affinity for those who, as Atwood described them, "keep our country running." Farmers, ranchers, beekeepers and craftsmen of all variety found their way into Kings and Queens. "It was my hope that this series would inspire young people. Maybe an LGBTQ youth somewhere out there wants to be a farmer. Now they can actually look at someone who is," said Atwood.
"I wanted to show other people that gay men and women are not always what they see in mass media," Atwood added. "There is a unique gay sensibility that we are differentdifferent and creative, all."
For more information on Tom Atwood's work or to see or order Kings and Queens in Their Castles, visit TomAtwood.com . Readers can view more photos and purchase books at www.TomAtwood.com/kings-queens.