Dazzling is a series of portraits taken at the Platinum International Newcomer’s Pageant. The first Pageant was held in an improvised club in the town of Fairfield, Alabama, a previously white steel town outside of Birmingham, Alabama, whose population is now 90.23% African American. The portraits are of the men who compete, who come as dressers, make-up artists, judges, sound specialists and audience members for the Platinum International Newcomer’s Pageant.
There is an intricate social network that operates at the pageant and unlike the system that appears in white clubs, this system is colored by the racial history and culture of the Deep South mirroring the church community that has long been a haven for blacks in the area. The system provides an environment and support system for young men who may not have another place in the rigid society of the south and participants come from all over the region.
The pageant moved from the Phoenix Club to Club Obsession, Rainbow City, and The Back Door. The clubs by nature are makeshift, with black plastic partitions and handheld spotlights. The images illuminate the beauty and the vulnerability of the black men who are wrestling with their sexual identity. It is also a way to show their dazzling personas. They are photographed with a black backdrop and studio lights, taking the subjects out of an identifiable environment. The images are printed close to life size; the scale gives the subjects a sense of dignity and also makes the viewer feel as though they are with them in the room. It is a confrontational technique that encourages empathy from the viewer. There are transformations that occur— not just of sexual identity but a transformation into a complete personality with a totally developed character. Often times the identities are bigger and brighter than the fragile male persona that is present when they are not dressed.