It's pretty much guaranteed that you won't see another show like "Legendary Children" in Savannah any time soon.
Set for Jan. 9 at Dollhouse Productions, the photo and drag show will feature the work of six photographers, all of them gay Southerners who have taken photos of Atlanta drag queens. The show will include a drag performance by the queens featured in the artwork, with all six photographers on hand to sell their work.
"Legendary Children" premiered in September at Atlanta's Gallery 1526. While the show received critical acclaim, it also drew controversy and national attention.
As a result, the artists were forced to censor their work. But at the same time, all the fuss increased attendance, and the house was packed for the show's closing reception.
The purpose of the production is to show the world the power of drag to transgress social norms. The title refers to the film "Paris is Burning," a 1990 documentary film about the ball culture of New York City and the gay and transgender communities involved in it.
"Legendary Children" looks at Southern urban gay culture, with photos of drag queens who operate outside the typical bar and pageant scene at poetry readings, in stage shows and in other settings. Via Facebook and Twitter, they also cultivate online personas.
The participating photographers are Blane Bussey, who poses his subjects at such public places as the Atlanta Zoo, Centennial Olympic Park and Stone Mountain; Jon Dean, who stages his subjects in experimental portraits; Blake England, whose own love affair with queen Violet Chachki inspires his work; Kevin O, who shoots candid photographs before, during and after drag performances; Matthew Terrell, whose photo journal depicts a surreal drag scene; and Maggie Towe, who photographs performers amongst lights, fog and glitter.
"I was taking pictures of Violet Chachki before I knew anyone else was," England says. "I had a few particular ones of her in the infamous crown, then Blane Bussey had asked me to be included in a project he was putting together with Jon Dean and Matt Terrell. And voila, it all started to fall into place!"
The live performance will feature photo subjects Brigitte Bidet, Cayenne Rouge, Ellisorous Rex, Evah Destruction, Kryean Kally, Lavonia Elberton, Mo'Dest Volgare and Violet Chachki.
Music will be provided by Whitegold, an Atlanta band featuring Billy Mitchell and Emily Kempf. Following the drag show, there will be a dance party with DJ King Atlas of the Haus of Glitz.
"Blane Bussey contacted me asking if I wanted to do a shoot," says queen Mo'Dest Volgare. "I said yes and put together three outfits and hopped on MARTA with him.
"I have a great love for fashion and putting together complete looks," she says. "With photo projects, you have to be completely on point with your looks, and I really wanted to push and better myself with that challenge."
People who view the show will think it is magic, Volgare says.
"Everyone I talked to enjoyed it," she says. "Honestly, it's going to be so different from anything you've ever seen before."
Although not originally from Atlanta, Volgare feels right at home there.
"I'm Northern-born but Southern-raised," Volgare says. "Atlanta made me who I is.
"I really enjoy making people laugh and have a good time and I also enjoy looking (good)," she says. "Everything kinda just worked out."
There are lessons to be learned from the show, and Volgare hopes audiences will take away one notion.
"Everyone is different and crazy isn't so bad," she says.
Drag queen Lavonia Elberton is looking forward to bringing the show to Savannah.
"My sisters and I, the Village Queens, are half of the subject material and a big force in this new generation of queens being born," she says.
"Paul Vogel says, 'Circles rise together. Find the people you want to work with, and work with them.'
"When this project started to coalesce, my sisters and I had found each other and started four new shows," Elberton says. "We had been working it out."
Elberton says she took part because she likes having her picture taken.
"I'm a drag queen," she says. "There's a natural element of narcissism."
The show was censored in Atlanta because of intolerance, Elberton says.
"Our society doesn't have much room or tolerance for material that falls outside the gender binary," she says. "The show was a helpful step in Atlanta's realization that there's a new, thriving art scene coming into its own right before their eyes.
"By placing mainstream in opposition to diversity, you give it a most unsavory quality, but I'll perform for any crowd, be they diverse or homogenous, mainstream or eclectic," Elberton says. "I often enjoy performing for mainstream audiences just 'cause I get my money's worth out of my shock value.
"What's most important to me is bringing my work to as many different eyes and minds and hearts as possible."
England had wanted to do something collaborative since college.
"I love the variety of a collection featuring different perspectives about the same idea," he says. "When that collection is featuring drag queens, it's hard to get bored. They have a different look every day.
"Here in Atlanta, we need a little more diversity," England says. "In a city full of queers, it's hard to not be over-saturated, but I guess it's just about holding your own and finding those few people that actually inspire you."
Employees of Gallery 1526 felt uncomfortable with a few of the images, including England's photo of a man's genitalia covered by women's clothes, though "the gallery featured plenty of female nudes and exhibits about drug use and paraphernalia ..." he says.
But viewers enjoyed the show, England says.
"I wasn't trying to be explicit, pornographic, shocking or indecent," he says. "I was being honest."
In Savannah, audiences will see some of the same works, different arrangements and the addition of Towe's photos, plus some photos no one has seen.
"Jon Dean and I have also been working on a little surprise we'll be premiering before the show, so make sure you arrive early," England says.
"It's never a dull moment, seriously. Just show up and have a look - you won't leave disappointed."
England graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta after studying photography and illustration.
"Drag queens were a lot more interesting to shoot than trees and abandoned buildings," he says. "Now I'll just put the queens in the trees and abandoned buildings.
"Real life is boring; bars are boring; shows are boring," England says. "Put on a mask and a costume - suddenly you're gender-bending and you are the entertainment. It's weird how such a simple act changes and defines us."
Terrell became involved because he knew some of the queens.
"It's a spectacular show to photograph," he says.
"Just going to the shows every week, I started to notice a lot of the same people also there taking photos: Jon, Blane, Kevin, Maggie and Blake. We conceived of 'Legendary Children' as a way to get our own artwork out to the public, and also to celebrate these amazing performers here in Atlanta. The city has a very strong queer community and 'Legendary Children' cements us into the scene."
Terrell participated in the project from the start.
"In the creative world, artists can use their skills to uplift friends in other disciplines," he says. "I see 'Legendary Children' as a way to use my skills as a photographer and writer to show the world my drag queen friends and the amazing queer community they are helping build here in Atlanta."
And it's historic, he says.
"Drag stands as an ancient art form," Terrell says. "Cultures across the continents and centuries have used cross-dressing for entertainment.
"Today, gay men are the carriers of this art form," he says. "Come see this old art form done bright, weird and queer. No matter who you are, even if you consider yourself a mainstream person, you'll love all the fabulous people who come to 'Legendary Children.'"