by Eric Resnick
Columbus�After twenty years, Pride Holiday, the state�s largest gay pride event, took a moment to look back, honoring twenty people and groups of people who made a difference in the gay community in Central Ohio at the June 23 Pride celebration.
Photo: Kaizaad Kotwal
The honorees, designated as grand marshals for the parade, rode in classic automobiles provided by the Lambda Car Club. Twenty of the 31 grand marshals were in attendance. Among those missing, Edie Holler and Ed Tomsic have passed away, and their memories were honored; while Craig Covey�s success as a Ferndale, Michigan, city council member and Gloria Smith�s new position in Florida kept them away.
The marchers in the parade were treated to a bright, sunny day which was mercifully cooler and breezier than in past years. A reporter counted 3,463 people marching in the parade or on floats, with thousands more joining them as it neared the festival at Bicentennial Park.
Photo: Kaizaad Kotwal
Pride Holiday banners lined the streets for the second year, many of them along the parade route on High Street. Ten new banners were added to rainbow banners used in previous years. These were purchased by Stonewall Columbus for $365 apiece, and put up by the city for a $65 fee to honor 20 years of the Pride Holiday. Last year, Stonewall contracted to have the banners up for two weeks; this year, however, they stayed up the entire month of June.
Photo: Kaizaad Kotwal
Four prizes were given out for floats and contingents, with the Human Rights Campaign winning best contingent and Wall Street Niteclub winning best theme for their three-tiered birthday cake float celebrating 20 years of Pride Holiday. Dayton Pride took the high camp award for their "Over the Rainbow" float complete with Dorothy and Toto.
The Columbus AIDS Taskforce was honored with the most creative float award. Their float had a beach motif, complete with sand, beach balls, palm tree, waves, and the motto "Don�t get burned, use protection."
Organizers estimate that, all told, 24,000 people took part in the parade, including the "thousands and thousands of people who surged to join the parade and their friends" in the last leg of the route to Bicentennial Park, according to Stonewall Columbus executive director Jeff Redfield.
Jeff Redfield on stage at Pride. Photo: Patti Harris
Organizers, aided by a shoulder-to-shoulder estimate by staff with the Columbus Department of Parks and Recreation, noted that a record-setting 32,000 people filled Bicentennial Park for the festival, which was larger both in terms of people and space this year. For the first time, a beer garden and a family area were added. Both were very successful, the beer garden adding to the festive atmosphere of the event, and the family area providing a safe space for people to let their children play and cavort.
The two new venues also helped keep the crowd level constant throughout the day, instead of tapering off later. The 70 vendors and organizations with booths at the festival were kept busy by the massive crowds, which also barely allowed the 145 volunteers a moment to breathe.
"It is hard to express how wonderful the event was," Redfield said, thanking the volunteers.
On the stage at the festival were the Cap City Divas, who emceed the event. They brought on nationally-known hometown comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer, along with recording artists Jeff Krassner and Carolyn Harding.
The true darlings of the day, however, were the Columbus Stompers, the line-dancing troupe that stuns audiences across the country with their skill, and the show at the Pride Holiday was no exception.
"It was an incredible day," said Redfield. "We are extremely pleased with this year�s Pride Holiday and hope that these memories will continue to encourage people to be proud of who they are all year long."
The day was capped off with a large rainbow to the east, preceding a rainstorm that completely missed the parade and festival.
Axis nightclub hosted two benefits that evening, the traditional Dancing in the Streets and Rockin� in the Streets. The first was a dance party featuring Inaya Day, DJ Ra, the Rubi Girls, the Columbus Men�s Chorus, and others. The latter was a concert mini-festival, both part of a community festival following Pride that benefited the Midwest Institute for Musical Arts, the Columbus Women�s Chorus, the Ohio AIDS Coalition, Stonewall Columbus and the Columbus Gay Men�s Chorus.
The next morning at 11:30 am, over 100 people paid $50 a plate for the Pride Holiday brunch, attended by dignitaries including Columbus mayor Michael B. Coleman, city attorney Janet E. Jackson and WCMH Channel 4 newscaster Colleen Marshall.
Tickets for the brunch had originally been priced at $75, but underwriting by Lindey�s enabled organizers to lower the price by $25.
Later on Sunday, "A Very Brady Bat �n� Rouge" took the field to the delight of crowds at their new location. This year�s drag softball game was played on the ball field of Mohawk Middle School at the corner of Grant and Livingston.
The burning question surrounding the game was: Did crowd favorite Jeff Redfield get a home run?
"The answer is no," he said mirthfully. "I was on a team that was having fun, not playing well."
If the entire weekend of events weren�t enough, three events this weekend will wrap up the month with fun and pride.
On June 29, there will be a Pride Survivor Party at Tradewinds II, 117 E. Chestnut. Partygoers will have a final chance to get their Pride Holiday 2001 dog tags and T-shirts, and prizes will be given out.
The same night, starting at 10 pm, Remo�s at 1409 S. High St. will host the Mr. Columbus All-Star Contest 2001, putting a little beef in the city�s cake to help wrap up Gay Pride month.
Saturday, June 30, the Farside, 1662 West Mound, will host a benefit for Stonewall Columbus starring the Dyke Queens, along with the 2Susans and Adrian Lloyd Avery. The entertainment begins at 9:30 pm, capping off a month of festivities that set new records for Columbus.
by Eric Resnick
The 2000 census of same sex couples living together in Ohio quadrupled the 1990 count. A total of 18,937 same-sex households in Ohio checked the "unmarried partner" box on the long and short census forms last year, giving the state its first official, albeit incomplete glimpse of how many lesbian and gay people there are and where they live.
In 1990, 3,777 same-sex couples checked "unmarried partner."
The 2000 census did not count the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, only households with same-sex couples. LGBT people who are single or who do not live with their partner were not counted.
Of the Ohio total, 9,671 same sex households are women; 9,266 are men.
The census results, released June 27, show that no Ohio county has fewer than 15 same-sex households, compared to 1990, when 24 of the state�s 88 counties reported none.
The U.S. Census Bureau is releasing details of the 2000 count state by state from June through August. Ohio�s 401% increase in same-sex couple households follows a national trend. Delaware and Nevada show increases of 781 and 711 percent since the 1990 census.
Vermont shows 522 percent increase. Illinois increased 268 percent. Indiana increased 428 percent. Washington, D.C. increased 66 percent.
The increases result from better counting by the census and from couples� increased willingness to identify themselves as unmarried partners of the same sex. While it is widely believed that these results are still an undercount of same sex households, it is not believed that the higher numbers are from an actual increase in the number of same sex households since 1990.
The census has no legal basis for counting lesbian and gay people because sexual orientation is not a category required to be counted to enforce the Federal Voting Rights Act and no such questions have been authorized by Congress.
But the "unmarried partner" option first appeared in 1990, primarily to find out how many unmarried heterosexual couples were living together.
Same sex couples who checked the "unmarried partner" option on the short form were not counted by census computers in 1990.
Same sex couples who checked the "unmarried partner" option on the long form sent to one out of every six households were counted in 1990, but the data was not made part of the census official reporting. The 1990 data supplied by the census for comparison purposes comes from this statistically corrected count.
The major counting change in 2000 is that every same sex couple that checked the "unmarried partner" option was counted, as were same sex couples who checked the "spouse" option.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is seeking consensus as to whether or not to lobby to include a question on sexual orientation in the 2010 census.
NGLTF organized a national campaign to inform same sex couples that they would be counted as a couple in 2000.
Stonewall Columbus executive director Jeff Redfield noted, "People still shy away from what�s supposed to be a confidential public reporting system because they still feel like they could lose their jobs or face other legal issues."
Dayton area couple Bill Sharp and Paul Leppla, who have lived together three years, filled out a long form and checked the "unmarried partner" option, but not without consideration.
Both are retired teachers and said they felt differently about letting their sexual orientation be known when they were working.
"But," said Leppla, "Once you buy a house together you don�t worry so much about things like that."
Stuart Scott and Larry Boldin of Canton have been together 54 years. Scott said they also checked the "unmarried partner" option, but understand why some couples won�t.
"There is still fear to check that box," said Scott. "We are still a little shy about being out sometimes and we live in a neighborhood that is very biased."
Scott and Boldin were pleased to hear that so many couples identified themselves, but at ages 76 and 80, wonder if they will live to see any change come from it.
Susan Savastuk and Glorianne Leck, who jokingly refer to themselves as "the two outest lesbians in Youngstown" have been together seven years and filled out a short form in 2000.
"We identify as a couple when we fill out all forms, which makes other people treat us as a couple," said Savastuk.
Savastuk said she was not counted as a lesbian in 1990 because she was single, and Leck did not identify herself that year because her partner then was closeted.
"I don�t believe there are many more [same sex couples] now than there were in 1990," said Savastuk, "but there are more who are comfortable with being counted."
The counties showing the highest increase in same sex households over the ten years are all rural areas. The top five increases are in Lawrence County, with an 11,600 percent increase, Richland, with 5,700 percent increase, Miami with 3,025 percent increase, Ross, with 2,200 percent increase, and Adams, with 1,650 percent increase.
In ranking the cities with over 10,000 households by what percent of all households are same-sex partners, Cleveland Heights tops the list at .94 percent. Lakewood follows with .92 percent.
Columbus is third with .86 percent; Dayton is fourth with .64 percent. East Cleveland is fifth at .63 percent and Cincinnati is sixth with .61 percent, and Cleveland is seventh with .60 percent.
Of cities with fewer than 10,000 households, the college town of Yellow Springs tops the list with 2.3% of all households being same-sex.
The table shown here ranks cities over 10,000 households by what percentage of unmarried partner households are same-sex. Cleveland Heights also tops this list of mostly suburban communities at 20.3 percent, giving it the arguable distinction of being the gayest city in Ohio.
The four counties with the fewest same sex households are all sparsely populated counties in the southeast part of the state.
Morgan County has 21 same-sex couples. Vinton and Monroe have 18 each, and Noble County has 15.
NGLTF family policy director Paula Ettelbrick summed it up this way: "As a community, we clearly shifted our focus in the 1990s to securing our family relationships through domestic partner benefits, adoption rights, and same-sex marriage. The census numbers mirror the unprecedented rise in the visibility of our families during the past decade."
by Anthony Glassman
Photo by: Jay Olak
Columbus�Pride Holiday was marked again with the arrest of anti-gay street preacher Charles Spingola for burning a rainbow flag near the Statehouse, days after his conviction was upheld for a similar incident two years ago.
Spingola was arrested June 23, along with Thomas R. Meyer, both of Newark, for open burning, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. "Open burning" is setting a public fire for any use other than cooking or smoking tobacco.
Spingola had burned another rainbow flag earlier that day outside of the Broad Street United Methodist Church, where an interfaith Pride service was being held. His act went largely unnoticed by those inside the church, but he was given a warning by police not to do it again.
According to Gloria McCauley, executive director of the Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Organization, who was in the church, several children outside the church with the protesters had naked male dolls taped together to simulate anal intercourse, with a hangman�s noose around one of the dolls� heads.
"He was saying we should be stoned to death," McCauley recalled Spingola�s comments, "and was saying how he could not decide whether to use a two-pound stone and do it at one time, or use small stones and do it slowly."
At 2 pm, as the Pride parade was winding down, Spingola took out another rainbow flag on High St., along with a container of flammable liquid, with which he soaked the flag. Police warned him not to burn the flag, and parade security head Andrea Critchet tried to keep the marchers away from him. Spingola then flicked the wet flag at Critchet, getting gasoline or lighter fluid on her.
"You�re all gonna burn in hell," Spingola then said, lighting the flag.
"The thing that was most disconcerting was that he didn�t care about all the children at all," Critchet said, referring to Spingola�s two young sons and other kids among the protesters. "He told them to grab the flag, which was still burning, because they were minors and the police wouldn�t do anything to them. They [the children] were hitting the police officers."
On June 26, Spingola and Meyer pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Spingola�s conviction in a similar 1999 incident was upheld June 19 by the 10th Appellate District Court of Appeals.
That year, Spingola climbed a flagpole outside the Statehouse on Pride Day and cut down a rainbow flag flying there, tossing it down to two other anti-gay protesters who then burned it. Spingola was convicted of criminal damaging, and the other two people were found guilty of similar charges.
Spingola may now face a new charge of criminal damaging, a misdemeanor, because of the gasoline splashed on Critchet. More serious charges, including felony assault and aggravated assault with arson, may be filed against Spingola if witnesses come forward and can confirm to police Critchet�s account of events.
Andy Scahill of Out in America contributed to this story.
by Eric Resnick
Cleveland--A third openly gay candidate has launched a bid for Cleveland city council.
Edward Hudson-Bey has taken out a petition to unseat incumbent Ward 8 (Glenville) member Bill Patmon.
Democrat Hudson-Bey says being a member of council has been his dream since age 13, and he has been watching council closely since he was 18.
"But," he adds, "It wasn�t until I worked for Mary Wilson�s campaign for sheriff that made my decision that I was ready to run."
At 26, Hudson-Bey will also have the distinction of being the youngest African-American council candidate on the ballot.
Hudson-Bey says he has lived in Glenville all his life and plans to stay there, citing the decline of his neighborhood, which has a high popoulation of senior citizens, as the main reason he entered the race this year.
"I am tired of watching the decline of my ward," he said, "There are no programs for seniors and too many youth on the streets with nothing to do."
Hudson-Bey says some of that decline is due to Patmon�s decision to use city development funds to put a shopping plaza on the corner of East 105th St. and St. Clair Ave.
"The plaza has stores that don�t help the people in the area," he said. "That land should have gone to Giant Eagle and made it easier for the senior citizens across the street to get groceries. Nobody was looking out for them."
Hudson-Bey is a former Burger King manager and left a customer service job at Wal-Mart so he could campaign full time.
He has been openly gay since age 13 and has a son, age 4. Hudson-Bey�s boyfriend of 2� years, Rae Rae Thomas, who will help him campaign.
"I walk the ward every day," said Hudson-Bey, "and I make myself visible at some of the restaurants and libraries in the area."
Hudson-Bey is also a regular at the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center and a member of the NAACP.
Hudson-Bey has also been active politically in the Ward 8 Democratic club. He is a precinct committee chair and part of the 11th District Caucus which advises U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones.
As a community leader, Hudson-Bey has organized a local club he calls the "Jr. Military Program" to keep kids off the streets, and volunteers for the neighborhood Council of Fathers.
Hudson-Bey plans to spend $2,000 of his own and raise the additional campaign funds needed, including from a fundraising birthday party in July, that he says has already raised $1,300.
Hudson-Bey campaigns as an out, gay man and says, "I feel damn good doing it. I have never kept myself in a closet."
He says he wants the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be by his side through his campaign.
"I am working for our future," he said, "and I want my GLBT brothers and sisters to walk with me."
William Davis and Sabra Pierce Scott have also taken out petitions for the Ward 8 seat. Patmon is expected to run for re-election, but has until August 23 to file his petition. All are Democrats.
The two highest vote getters in the October 2 primary will face each other November 6.
In Cleveland, Hudson-Bey is joined by openly gay Joe Santiago seeking the Ward 14 seat and Buck Harris seeking the Ward 17 seat.
The three openly gay Clevelanders will be joined by two other openly gay Ohio candidates on the November ballot.
James Moore-McDermott is seeking a council-at-large seat in Bucyrus and Louis Escobar is running for re-election to his city council seat in Toledo.
The state�s other openly gay elected official, Dayton City Commissioner Mary Wiseman, said in January that she will not seek re-election.
by Anthony Glassman
Cleveland�With the June 22 announcement that the Indians had traded pitchers Steve Karsay and Steve Reed to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for John Rocker, the team�s management set off a storm of controversy.
Rocker earned himself a reputation as a loose cannon with a December, 1999, magazine interview in which, while explaining why he would not like to play for a New York team, he insulted gays, immigrants, African-Americans and other groups.
"Imagine having to take the 7 train to [Shea Stadium] looking like you�re in Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids," Rocker told Sports Illustrated in the Christmas week issue. "It�s depressing."
He also referred to an overweight black teammate as a "fat monkey," and went on to further lambaste New York: "The biggest thing I don�t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English . . . How the hell did they get in this country?"
Rocker received a hefty fine for the statements, as well as a major suspension, both of which were reduced following the filing of a grievance by the players� union.
Rocker�s trade to the Indians was not, however, done without the input of his new teammates, including those who are Latino or African-American.
"One of the things that our people did was to get a sense of what our veterans thought about this acquisition," Indians vice president for public relations Bob DiBiasio said. "To a man, they were in favor of bringing him here."
The trade has so far been at least partly successful for the Indians, since Rocker ended a June 24 game against the Kansas City Royals with a 4-2 victory, and closed a June 26 Yankees game with a 5-3 win.
However, the controversy surrounding his earlier comments has not diminished, and the Indians management recognizes the furor.
"We obviously do not think of it as a problem," said DiBiasio of Rocker�s history. "We are well aware of his background. We do not judge him by one paragraph in a story."
Public opinion in the LGBT community, however, is less charitable.
"Personally, I think the guy�s a jackass," said lesbian Tribe fan Carolyn Albu of Cleveland. "But he is a good closer."
"It�s an embarrassment for Cleveland," said Ron Buford, spokesman for the United Church of Christ, longtime Indians fan and black gay man. "They are more than just players, they are symbols for the city."
Linda Malicki, executive director of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, was more charitable.
"I thought the team management handled it well, interviewing their key folks, most of whom are Hispanic or African American," she noted.
"The guy made a mistake, did something stupid, and paid for it," she continued. "I think we need to let him move on and grow up."
"I�ll judge him by what he does here," Malicki concluded.
The Indians have already been accused of racial insensitivity for keeping their team logo, Chief Wahoo, a stereotyped Native American.
When asked if the team had provisions in place in case Rocker decides to say something he shouldn�t, DiBiasio replied that they do.
"We have a framework in place to discipline any player."
by Anthony Glassman
Cincinnati�The city�s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender banquet, the June 16 Stonewall Cincinnati dinner, was not harmed by the late cancellation of its headline entertainer.
Comedian Sandra Bernhard�s June 15 flight out of LaGuardia Airport in New York was cancelled due to heavy storms on the east coast, a problem that compounded an illness already plaguing Bernhard. In addition, her religious beliefs prohibit her from traveling on Saturdays, leaving her unable to attempt a later flight.
Nora Hunt, an entertainer from New York, was able to step in at the last moment, allaying fears of the dinner�s organizers.
"It was great that she was able to fill in at the last minute," said Barb Martin, co-chair of Stonewall Cincinnati�s board of directors. "We�re very grateful that she was able to entertain the audience and be such a sport about the whole thing."
Martin noted that Hunt helped avert possible disaster at the 19th annual event, Stonewall Cincinnati�s largest fundraiser of the year. She did not know whether any of those who had purchased tickets to the event would have asked for a refund had there been no entertainment.
"People usually buy tickets to support the fundraiser, not for the entertainment," she indicated.
The event, which started at 8 pm, featured a cash bar and video and musical entertainment. It was held at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center�not in Cincinnati--to protest Issue 3, the city charter amendment prohibiting the city from passing any form of gay equal rights protection.
Issue 3 is currently being studied by a coalition of organizations to examine its effects on the financial well-being of the city, as well as on Cincinnati�s bid to host the Olympics in 2012.
Over 200 people turned out June 26 to help the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland launch their new public awareness campaign by forming a human red ribbon on the lawn behind the Cleveland Museum of Art.
"It was wonderful," said Judy Price, director of corporate and media relations for the Taskforce. "I don�t think we could have asked for a better turnout."
Executive director Earl Pike introduced the Antioch Baptist Church choir, praising them for their efforts in supporting AIDS prevention. After they sang a few spirituals and Pike made a short speech, the volunteers formed the ribbon.
The human red ribbon was photographed for a public awareness campaign being launched by the Taskforce to fight the perceived complacency about the disease, which some believe has led to recent increases in transmission rates among young gay men.
by Anthony Glassman
Columbus�The weekend of Pride Holiday 2001 was notable for more than the 20th anniversary of the event; it also saw the return of Grapevine Café, a much-loved gay and lesbian restaurant, after an absence of a year.
The return of the Grapevine is not the only major change occurring in the LGBT bar and restaurant scene in Ohio. The Grid, for seven years a popular Cleveland dance club and gathering spot, will close its doors at the end of the month as it takes a two- to three-month hiatus to establish itself in larger space at another location in downtown Cleveland.
Also, Heck�s Café, a gay-owned and gay-friendly restaurant opened 26 years ago, was purchased three weeks ago by the two gay men who originally opened the Hi and Dry Inn.
Co-owner and founder Alice Wing, honored as one of the 20 grand marshals of the Pride Holiday parade on June 23, sold Grapevine a year ago, and it became the bar Kelly�s.
"I wanted to take a different path," Wing said of the restaurant, opened in 1988. "Burnout would probably be the right way to say it."
The business returned to her when the new owner defaulted in May, Wing said.
Wing doesn�t anticipate burnout being a problem again. Helping bear the burden of running a restaurant and bar is new co-owner Jill McDonald, who also owns Wall Street Niteclub, a well-known venues for women�s music. According to Wing, she went to McDonald because of her expertise, which will pay off July 7, with a meet-and-greet reception with lesbian folk-rocker Melissa Ferrick at 5 pm, before her 9 pm show at Wall Street.
Wing also noted that, while it will not be on as large a scale as Wall Street, Grapevine will bring in live entertainment, restricted mainly by space constraints.
Grapevine Café is located at 73 E. Gay St. in Columbus.
Raising rent and market saturation in downtown Cleveland�s warehouse district are the two main factors in owner Jerry Szoka�s decision to relocate the Grid.
"The landlord wants too much money," Szoka said. "The area is saturated with things to do; restaurants come and go on a regular basis and parking is a nightmare."
Szoka is hoping for a September reopening in a new, larger location. He is still looking at possible venues, although he was narrowing the list at press time.
"I�ve reached my pinnacle there, it�s too small," Szoka confided. According to him, all of the spaces he�s considering will be significantly bigger, meaning a larger dance floor, a no-smoking lounge in addition to the more traditional one, room to bring in live acts, and, perhaps most importantly in the ever-developing downtown area, more parking.
He is also firm in his decision to keep the bar centrally located downtown, to be readily available to people from all parts of the Cleveland metro area.
"I wanted there to be a cool bar to go to where there wasn�t a lot of attitude," said Szoka cheerfully. "It�s a party place, and that�s what I wanted."
The phone number, 216-621-0113, and the web site, www.thegrid.com, will still be available, giving updates on the reopening of the bar.
Jeff Eisenberg and Mike Weigant opened the Hi and Dry In, a restaurant and bar in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, in 1995. Lunch, dinner and late night hours were very popular, which eventually became a problem.
"It had just gotten too big," Eisenberg recalled. "We just needed a break. We either needed to cut back the hours or sell it."
They opted for the latter last year, and then opened the Duck Island Club near the West Side Market.
"We saw a need for a place where you could hang out," Eisenberg said.
Apparently the need was there, since Duck Island has become the "in" place for the A-list of the city�s gay male activist community.
However, Eisenberg and Weigant weren�t done there. A half-mile away, in the Ohio City neighborhood, is Heck�s Café, opened 26 years ago and rolling along ever since.
"It�s been here for years," Eisenberg noted, "and nobody has anything bad to say about it."
Which, according to him, is not necessarily a good thing.
"People would say, �Heck�s? I haven�t eaten there in ages.�"
Eisenberg and Weigant had been in intermittent discussions to purchase the restaurant for a year, finally closing the deal three weeks ago.
Their goal is turn it from a restaurant that people remember fondly to a place where people go to eat on a regular basis. They�re reworking the menu, changing some of the staff, and trying to give the place a more "fun" atmosphere, removing the trademark plants and trellises that gave it an air of a European bistro.
Eisenberg and Weigant�s touch appears to be working, with people dining in the sun at the sidewalk tables and lunch and dinner hours busy.
Heck�s Café is located at 2927 Bridge Ave., in the Ohio City area of Cleveland.
by Kaizaad Kotwal
Massengill and Massengill Men are two collections of male photography by New York photographer Reed Massengill. The two books contain a fine selection of Massengill's black and white photos focusing on the beauty of a variety of men.
In his latest book, Brian: A Nine-Year Photographic Diary, Massengill has turned his lens towards the incredible beauty and compelling persona of one singular model--the stunningly beautiful and somewhat enigmatic Brian Hess.
Massengill, who currently resides in New York City, calls Knoxville, Tennessee, his home. He has been a contributing photographer and writer for various publications including the New York Times, Connoisseur, Genre, Swim, Cowboy, Forbes, Paramour and Interview, among others. Massengill was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his 1994 biography Portrait of a Racist, chronicling the life of white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith, the convicted killer of Medgar Evers.
In his earlier books, Massengill compiled a series of pictures of models who in the photographer's words "are bankers and busboys, athletes and architects, fraternity boys and young fathers, dock workers and social workers." It is this sense of the everyman that had drawn Massengill to his models.
Brian Hess in many ways is the embodiment of this "everyman" spirit that Massengill has so beautifully found in a plethora of models in the past. Hess approaches a certain Greek ideal in many ways and yet there is, juxtaposed against that physical perfection, a greater sense of motion, spirit, and emotion that gives these photos a very dynamic, almost spiritual and gracefully kinetic quality.
In essence, Massengill has the ability to capture with his lens a nice tension between a physicality that is forever immortalized on film and a spirit that seems to be in flux and seeking release beyond the confines of a still image. It is this sense of physical immutability and emotional vulnerability that makes Hess's images rich and honest.
Hess is captured in a variety of moods and emotions and there are portraits, torsos and full body shots.
Some seem pensive while others exude self-confidence and revel in the sheer joie de vivre of posing nude in front of the camera.
Ultimately what makes this collection so intriguing is that each frame is not merely about photographing Hess's ever-transforming body, but that each image seems immersed in a story and is nuanced by the unique looks that Hess sheds in front of the lens. He goes from being the all-American boy next door, with a conservative haircut and soulful doe eyes, to a tattooed, scarred, and enigmatic man immersed in an aura of transformation, transfiguration and spiritual tenacity.
Massengill met Hess through sheer serendipity. A model named Brent had come to Massengill to have his portfolio shot. As Brent pulled out his driver's license to prove to the photographer that he was indeed 18 years of age, a senior photo of his friend Hess fell out of the wallet.
Massengill, turning to Brent, said, "I'd be happy to shoot your portfolio. Just bring me this guy and I'll shoot whatever you want." The rest as they say, is history--a history of a deep and continuing friendship enveloped in the warm embrace of photographic lighting and watched over by the careful gaze of a camera's lens.
Massengill spoke with me from New York about his work, his passions and the subject of his latest book.
Kaizaad Kotwal: How did this book come about?
Reed Massengill: David Spriggle, the editor and owner of FotoFactory Press had seen Brian's photos and he suggested we do the book. Neither Brian nor I ever felt that there was a book in my continuing photography of him.
KK: What keeps drawing you to Brian, having shot him for ten years now?
RM: I am continually drawn to his sheer beauty and his genuineness as a person. I constantly find him interesting, from someone nice to look at to someone who is a friend. Also, his comfort level with me is really high as is the trust we share.
KK: Tell me a little about the physical transformations of Brian.
RM: The physical changes are a manifestation of something deeper, they are about his evolution as a person. The past ten years have been his process of slowly self-actualizing into an adult, a father. Most of us don't pay attention to the canvass that is our body. Brian is more aware of his body and uses it as a canvass to express his personal voyage and growth.
KK: How often do you see each other?
RM: We only see each other when we shoot together. We don't call once a week or once a month, but regardless of time we are able to pick up wherever we left off. It's really not as complicated or as deep as being twins separated at birth, etc. We simply get along and don't get on each other's nerves. It's really kinda simple.
KK: Included in this book are some images of yourself with Brian. Is this a new trend in your work?
RM: I now shoot a roll of film of myself with every model I work with. When people would look at my photographs it was totally about the subjects. But it's more complicated than that. It is about a relationship between the photographer and the subjects. So if I get hit by a bus I want to leave some evidence of my relationships with these models.
KK: Can you talk a bit about your substantial collection of vintage photography?
RM: Yes. I have a vast collection, more than 10,000 images, representing most of the important photographers of the male physique from Bruce of L.A. to Bob Meiser. I invest a lot of time and money into this passion. When someone buys my prints I turn my money back into buying some of these great photos.
KK: What is behind this passion?
RM: I realize how much of a debt I owe to these photographers who were persecuted, jailed, and harassed for doing what they did. I am very humble about how freely I can do it and very mindful of that heritage. Because a lot of these past images were linked to the gay community the work was destroyed willfully or out of carelessness or shame. I am trying very diligently to chronicle and archive this very important development in photography. It will be some time before we realize how important these photographers were in the bigger scheme of things.
This is why I am so serious and passionate about collecting such works. By comparison, my stuff's not important.
Massengill is very humble and even self-deprecating about his own work. We talked about Elton John's passion for male photography and his huge collection.
Massengill said that he would refer other photographers to John before selling him his own stuff. Massengill is a great champion of the works of Cuban-born photographer Robert Cusivo, Rob Lang, Roy Blakely, Ken Duncan, Jack Mitchell and others.
Massengill is working on many other book ideas. He knows that in order to have freedom in the long term he needs to build up his "nest egg" in the short term.
"It's a common sense thing far too few artistic people do," he says emphatically.
Massengill ends the introduction to his book on Brian Hess with: "While I am still captivated by his physical beauty, I am equally fascinated by the man he has become. I know that I will still want to photograph him even when he's 38 or 42 or 56. Brian will always be beautiful to me, and I love him in the best way a gay photographer can love his favorite straight model: I love him with my camera."
That love is abundantly on display in this very unique and beautiful collection of photos. Hess continues to transform, both from within and on the outside. One can only hope that Massengill continues to document this individual and that we get to share in this fabulous collaboration in the future as well.
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