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Night of a Thousand Queens

August 2, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 7
Lady Bunny

Lady Bunny

by Steve Desroches

Comedian and musician Deven Green just finished her show at the Pilgrim House Showroom at the Sage Inn. In this stream of consciousness mash-up, sing-a-long Green takes her audience on a magic carpet ride zipping and zapping around from joke to joke in between belting out songs like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and the Mamas & the Pappas’ “Monday, Monday” while she strums her electric ukulele. Dressed in a crisp summer plaid skirt with knee-high white stockings and a cerulean sleeveless blouse, Green’s eye makeup is doe-eyed meets disco as its main feature is gold glitter. Well-known for the variety of characters she creates, she is so convincing that even when playing herself, you’re never sure if that, too, is a creation of her wickedly funny imagination. That’s exactly what captures photographer Shånn Treadwell’s eye as he approaches with his white Fujifilm Instax camera.

Ever since he can remember Treadwell has been drawn to those who create cartoonish characters for themselves. Pee Wee Herman, Richard Simmons, Elvira, RuPaul: all people who can blur the lines between reality and fiction so well that their creations become independent of their creators. And as he got older, that fascination carried over to drag queens and the creativity that accompanies nightlife, where everyday people are given the opportunity to recreate themselves into entirely new beings. So as he begins to snap photos of Green, someone he’s met before and who enthusiastically encourages his point of view, she poses with a trust that Treadwell “gets it.” And he should, as despite being only 31, he’s been photographing the glitter and the glamour for a long time. It all started when as a student at Ware High School Treadwell first came to Provincetown in 2002 as part of a photography class field trip.

“My first reel of film I ever did was here in Provincetown,” says Treadwell. “I photographed the drag queens barking for their shows. That was the beginning.”

Bianca Del Rio

Bianca Del Rio

Treadwell has become as recognizable as his subjects with his devotion to photographing the drag scene and nightlife in Provincetown. After living in Northampton, Massachusetts, for eight years, Treadwell made the move to Provincetown in 2014 and he picked up where he left off after his first visit 12 years prior. He is always looking for his next photograph. You can see it in his eye, and it’s evident in his dedication as he maneuvers Provincetown after dark, camera always in hand. And he has an impressive body of work to show for it, much of which will be on exhibition in A Midsummer’s Nightclub, a one-night-only show at the Jo Hay Open Studio this Friday, which will feature 1,000 of Treadwell’s instant photographs.

Treadwell’s photos, taken here in Provincetown, New York, Los Angeles, and in Bali, Indonesia, capture the drag and underground stars of the day just at a moment in our culture where they are no longer nameless, but recognizable artists and performers. It is true, drag queens have long been the

subject of a photographer’s lens, but while Treadwell approaches his work as fine art, he acknowledges there is a corresponding documentation of a very specific time in LGBTQ culture and in live performance. His drive to work means that he is known to queens and acts he’s never met before as, through their tight network of sharing advice about venues, producers, and such with each other, they also let each other know about Treadwell’s work and that his ethic is top notch.  The work that first got him attention was his photo collage, where he’d photograph a drag queen’s entire body, sometimes producing 200 prints, and then reassembling them into a portrait. It’s a unique take on a known art form, and he is in the process of photographing all of the winner’s of RuPaul’s Drag Race and plans on showing them at RuPaul’s Drag Con this September at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, where he’ll share space with Provincetown/Brooklyn exhibitor House of La Rue. It’s a remarkable accomplishment as he’s not the only one interested in photographing these queens, and he does it largely outside of a studio, adding to the challenge of getting them to sit still long enough.

“I go as long as they let me,” says Treadwell. “It used to take me 15 minutes. Now I can shoot an entire body in three minutes. I shoot as long as I can before I can tell they are over it.”

The stacks and stacks of the 1,000 photographs form a neat line along a long shelf in his small Tremont Street apartment, which is also home to larger than life prints and collages.  He knows he’s lucky to have found a place to live that also gives him enough room to work. And when he isn’t working on his art, he’s hard at work at the Boatslip. With high housing prices and a declining stock of seasonal rentals not reserved for tourists, Treadwell is all too

Courtney Act

Courtney Act

aware of the struggles and hustle it takes to live in Provincetown as a young artist. But it’s worth it, he stresses. There’s nowhere else in the world he’d rather be, not only for all the reasons that so many love Provincetown, but because this is where so many of his muses assemble each summer. He knows this is the place to be.

“This is the best place in the world for drag,” says Treadwell. “I don’t care what anyone says. If you’re a drag queen and you’re performing in Provincetown, you’re the sh*t. The best of the best. It’s all happening here.”

Shånn Treadwell’s A Midsummer’s Nightclub is on exhibition at the Jo Hay Open Studio, 167 Commercial St., Provincetown, Friday, August 4 from 7 to 10 p.m. For more information call 508.776.0503 or visit johayopenstudio.com.