Lens On: Jeremy Kost

The photographer talks us through his new photobook, Like One of Your French Girls.

His photographs of scantily clad men have gone down a storm on Insta – amassing nearly 300k followers of those seeking to soak up the male form – but for his latest project, US based photographer Jeremy Kost has put the lens on drag queens in all their unique and outlandish guises.

Shooting his subjects on Polaroid and smearing the images with paint to serve up a unique textured effect, Kost has been photographing the stars of the drag scene since 2001, snapping some even before they became household names as a result of RuPaul induced fame. The result of this on-going project is Like One of Your French Girls, a perfectly produced photo book featuring archive imagery dating back to 2009 and featuring the likes of Sharon Needles, Detox Icunt and Alaska Thunderfuck, a.k.a. all your fave queens.

Following the book’s London launch at The Edition, hosted by our fave UK queen Jodie Harsh, we caught up with Kost to talk about the creative process behind his latest work.

What inspired you to create Like One of Your French Girls?

It happened by mistake to be honest. I was working on a painting on the wall of my NYC place and took it too far. Out of frustration, I swiped a Polaroid of a dude through the oilstick on the canvas and loved the mistaken result! I’ve continued to refine the idea both in application and conceptual focus; I’m making progress all the time. With drag queens, there really is an amazing relationship between makeup and paint. In fact, queens often say that they’re “painting” their faces! It also has to do with masking, concealing, revealing, colour, mixing, contrast… It’s a perfect conceptual balance I think!

And what led you to choose drag queens – as opposed to men, for example – as the subject for the book?

To be honest, I’ve sort of been a bit burned out shooting dudes for the last year or so. I didn’t shoot anything else between fall of 2012 and spring of 2016 and have been looking for inspiration again; I found that in my return to drag queens and I’ve been making new work with them since. 90% of the Polaroids in this book are from my archives (largely between 2009 and 2012). They were either extra portraits made for a larger collage (earlier work) or a single Polaroid that I made for posterity, given that the iPhone camera wasn’t what it is today. This specific book came as a direct result of knowing that I wanted to make a book of the painted work with drag queens, and revisiting these images was a way to give it breadth and diversity of subject, place, and such. It also allowed me a golden opportunity to connect the dots between my older work and where I’m going with the new painted works I’m making in the studio now.

You touched on it before, but can you talk to us specifically about the paint on the Polaroids? 

With this specific body of work, they were all individually considered. I’d mix different colours on palettes and then look at their relationship to each other. Once I was happy with a relationship and the way things felt, I’d find a Polaroid in the archive stacks that “worked” with the paint that I’d laid down. Sometimes it would work in an opposite direction… I knew I wanted to include a specific Polaroid in the body of work and I’d make something that felt right. The images of Amanda Lepore with Tommy are a perfect example of that sort of reverse process!

Some of the images date back to 2009, was a book always in the pipeline?

Not at all to be honest.  They were things in my archives that I didn’t have any grand plans for. As I mentioned, they were made when I was making other works. They really are the perfect way of connecting the dots between where I’m going and the work I made previously in my career.

Why do you think drag is important?

After seeing things like DragCon in LA and The Mighty Hoopla in London, it’s amazing how the mainstreaming of drag has given people so much freedom. It’s incredible to see people more liberated than ever, with drag seemingly giving them license to express themselves much more confidently. It also has such an amazing historical reference to fashion, presentation, masking, layering…

In a world that is so digitally led and focused on perfection, what attracts you to shooting on film?

It really is amazing to see the difference between the interaction from fans on digital/iPhone images versus Polaroids on Instagram on both accounts… For me, the Polaroid is the more sophisticated part of what I do. The followers totally engage more with the digital image, but there is something to be said for being able to hold the moment in your hand, be it with paint or not!

Shooting drag queens is quite a departure from the male portraits you usually shoot. How do the two compare?

Well, lest you forget that I’ve been shooting drag queens since 2001! When my Instagram first started, it was a hybrid! So, I don’t think about this as much of a departure, but rather, a homecoming.

And what direction do you see yourself taking in the future. 

I’m steadily working in LA on new paintings, along with new Polaroids of dudes and drag queens all over the world. I hope to work on another book of men to come out next fall and possibly a follow up to French Girls with all of the new work that I’ve been making as well.

Like One of Your French Girls is available online here. Limited run of 400 copies, each with unique painted doodle on the back-cover.

Ryan Cahill
Lens On: Jeremy Kost

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