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Yes, Really! : Ryan Rudewicz and His Rude Polaroids

The Pits (Polaroid film)

by Steve Desroches

   The text arrived at 8:02 a.m. Photographer Ryan Rudewicz remembers it well. It was last December and it was from his mother. It wasn’t a usual how are you doing or are you eating enough maternal check-in. Not at all. Always supportive of her creative son, Rudewicz’s mother, who is rarely on social media, had gone on Instagram to see her son’s latest work. She was always proud of her son’s work and a loving mother of a gay son. But when she logged onto Instagram and saw his work that documents queer nightlife and culture, she was a bit shocked by some of the subject matter, and in particular, the titles of the pieces. So when he heard his phone ding, the message he received from his mother listed several of his provocative titles, such as: Suck Dick, Eat Ass, and Share Drugs. Really Ryan???” she said.


That Feels Good (Polaroid film)

“I spit out my coffee and instantly took a screenshot and sent it to my siblings asking, ‘What is happening?’” laughs Rudewicz. “She’s not really into social media so I didn’t think she’d ever see them. I get her point and she is from a different generation. She was not pleased.”

He momentarily thought about taking the work down as at 27 years old, Rudewicz felt a mixture of annoyance and sheepish cringing. But he quickly came to the conclusion that he is indeed an adult and quite proud of his work. He took the opportunity to talk to his mother, adult to adult, though upon answering his call she repeated, “Really Ryan?!”

A native of Yarmouth, Rudewicz has been based in Brooklyn for a number of years and he explained to his mother what queer culture was like in New York City and what it all means. His mother was not entirely unaware as her late brother Gerry O’Neill was a gay man who for a long period of time lived in Provincetown. But the viewpoints and cultural expressions of this generation of queer youth is very different, largely free of the fear of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and religious-based shame, and armed with a refreshing sense of confidence that indeed LGBTQ people have inalienable rights and, as such, expect them rather than act grateful for them. His mother was quite receptive to this conversation though still had concerns and reservations, to which Rudewicz finally said, “Mom, you’re just not the audience for them.” She agreed. And she said the same thing a few weeks later to her walking buddy, Connie, who said she went online to buy a print to support him, but didn’t quite know what to make of the work. Rudewicz’s mother replied, “Connie. We’re just not his audience.” And they continued on their walk.

After Practice (Polaroid film)

“I wish every queer person could have that kind of conversation with their mother,” says Rudewicz. “It was beautiful.”

The whole encounter left such an impression on Rudewicz he named his first solo show Really Ryan???, which opens this Thursday at Studio Lacombe and runs through September 4. Often called “Rude Polaroids,” Rudewicz’s work documents modern queer life through his lived or observed experiences in New York City and Provincetown in all its forms, some erotic, others playful and innocent. His artistic choice to use Polaroid cameras is propelled in part by his love for the anachronistic aesthetic it gives the photos, creating instant nostalgia to the now. As a child he was always interested in photography and at a young age became the “family photographer.” But it was while he was studying abroad in London that Polaroid became a fascination for him. He took the opportunity to travel Europe while studying in the United Kingdom and was at a large open-air market in Budapest where he bought a vintage Polaroid.

Make Out (Polaroid film)

He worked with a variety of photographic technologies for years, but returned to Polaroid when the tug of home influenced his work. Trips to Provincetown were a regular part of his childhood, frequent both because it was so close and his Uncle Gerry lived here (O’Neill was a former and much-loved member of the Provincetown Magazine team for years). On those trips he was always mesmerized by drag queens and photographed them frequently, a precursor to his work now.

Boy Bums (Polaroid film)

Two events changed the course of Rudewicz’s life and work in 2020. When the pandemic hit, Rudewicz returned to Cape Cod to live with his parents in Yarmouth after he was furloughed from his job. Bored and restless he walked to the beach frequently and challenged himself to take a Polaroid a day. And not long after his Uncle Gerry died on Halloween day in 2020 Rudewicz and his mother were going through his belongings and found a cache of Polaroids, all well labeled, documenting Gerry’s life in Provincetown in the 1990s and 2000s. And now he’s doing the same with his own life.

Nightmare (Polaroid film)

That same year the photography book, The Drag Explosion by drag legend Linda Simpson came out featuring photos of downtown New York’s drag scene in the late 1980s and 1990s. Rudewicz took all that inspiration and pursued his Polaroid work with a passion when he was able to return to New York. And in these times with digital erotic self-portraits common, using Polaroids for such subject matter is a throwback to a time when gay men often used Polaroid to do what people now use iPhones for. But be it drag queens, two men kissing in a bar, or a more sexual concept, Rudewicz is happiest when his subjects are happy.

“I love when someone sees a photo of themselves and goes, ‘Is that me?’,” says Rudewicz. “And I love that I’m capturing the queer life of today of what is all around me. With time the photos will mean even more.”

Ryan Rudewicz’s exhibition Really Ryan??? is at Studio Lacombe, 237 Commercial St., Whalers Wharf, from August 24 through September 4. A special opening reception is planned for Friday, August 25 from 6 to 9 p.m. For more information call 202.460.6826 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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