Above image courtesy of ArtNowNY: “(Second Time-Whoops!) Ready, Christopher Street” West Village, CPrint Edition of 5, 1983, 16"x24" // “Marylin and Police Cars” West Village, CPrint Edition of 5, 1985, 8"x12"
Masculinity—a concept shoved down our throats via mainstream media, a constant reminder from stern fathers to man up, a silent competition on the grade school playground, puffed out chests and flexed muscles. Certain expectations must be upheld, especially when staring down the lens of a camera.
“Former Roughneck, Big Spring Texas”, CPrint Edition of 5, 1984, 16"x24" // “Roughneck’s Budweiser. Cocodrie, Louisiana”, CPrint Edition of 5, 1984, 8"x12"
While the underlying standards are fundamentally the same, the extremes of masculinity have diminished since the 1980s, when Kit Kittle photographed oil riggers for his book Roughnecks (1985). The industrial cowboys of America were hardened men who took pride in their physical labor. Their free time was spent hard drinking with whores and cracking crude jokes. Kittle’s photographs spotlight their honest livelihood, showing a sense of camaraderie and a confidence in their personal manhood. Many of the men seem to be humbled by the camera, disinterested in flexing muscle or baring teeth, instead presenting a raw picture of self.
Those in the Drag Queens series starkly juxtapose the roughneck photos. While they all have a raw feeling of point and click photojournalism, the subjects inspire a completely different mood. The drag queens are flamboyant, dressed to the nines as a living performance who blossom in front of the camera. Yet they have the same rough grime about them; makeup is caked on and wilting in the heat of the night reminding us of the paint spattered on roughneck skin from a hard day’s work. The drag queens hold the same pride for their work—hard labor of stepping into character. They too indulge in material pleasures like alcohol and sex. The men beneath the costume express their most feminine nature, yet can’t escape the masculine norms engrained by culture from birth. Kittle’s photographic study exposes the roughnecks and drag queens to dissect the human masculinity complex.
Kit Kittle’s exhibition runs until July 12 at ArtNow NY.
Text by Ashley Minyard
Photographs by Chad Smith
Kit Kittle, the artist
Special Guest of Kit Kittle, Rising Actor Annaliese Kirby (Left) & her Family Pictured Here) Kit Kittle Roughnecks & Drag Queen