Pewamo to NYC: Michigan Native Releases Photo Book of NYC Drag Queens

By | 2018-01-31T14:49:18+00:00 January 31st, 2018|Entertainment, Features|

Fashion and fine arts photographer Gregory Kramer might be at ease in New York City’s fashion scene now, but — as with many artists — he had humble beginnings. Originally from the village of Pewamo, Michigan, Kramer always knew he had an artistic eye. After graduating from Pewamo Westphalia High School, Kramer enrolled at Lansing Community College and decided to put his vision to good use. There, he began studying photography, and soon put any of his doubts to rest.
“While attending college I had the opportunity to attend a few fashion workshops at Parsons in New York City,” recalled Kramer. “Those workshops confirmed my career choice, and I knew that eventually New York City would be my home.”
By 1992 Kramer was settled in New York, but he still didn’t have much to show to potential clients. He decided to throw himself into the world of photography and gain as much experience as possible.
“My early years there were spent assisting various photographers and during that time I worked on my personal portfolio,” Kramer said. “Once that was together, I moved to Syndey, Australia, to pursue shooting. Over the course of that year I began shooting for various publications. Then when I returned to New York I had a portfolio to start showing prospective clients.”
Eventually, Kramer would go on to shoot for Harper’s Bazaar, Jane, Cosmogirl and other publications. He also shot ads for clients such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales and Macy’s. He said that part of what drives him to continue shooting is New York’s rich environment.
“Aside from being the hub for the American fashion industry, New York is a true melting pot,” said Kramer. “There’s real diversity here, and a thriving subculture of artists and performers that I find inspiring.”
Among those artists and performers that spark his creativity, Kramer is fascinated with NYC drag queen culture. To that end, he recently released his first photo book, the aptly titled “DRAGS.” His fascination began when he was looking for a new subject.
“I was looking for a project, and got inspired by Irving Penn’s book Small Trades,” he said. “After looking through it, I thought, ‘That’s it. I want to do a photo book on New York City’s drag scene.’”
Getting started, Kramer said, was not difficult.
“The book started with a small list of performers and a portrait of the legendary Linda Simpson,” he said. “Linda, whom I had become friends with over the years, was pivotal in putting me into contact with the other performers. From there the list grew organically. It was recommendations from people I just shot and searching social media to fill in the gaps.”
Just as effortlessly as it had begun, Kramer said the shoots followed suit.
“Every session was filled with gaiety,” he said. “The subjects would arrive in various states of drag, or get ready at the studio. After hours of transforming themselves into their persona, dressing would begin. Zippers were forced to their limits, pantyhose ran, feet would be squeezed into heels and nails would be constantly falling off. And then, the shooting began.”
Still, as lacking in conflict as the shoots were, there were no shortage of memorable moments.
“I remember a time when one of my models, Bobbie, arrived with baggage that a porter would have trouble handling,” Kramer said. “After hauling it all into the studio she realized she had left one piece of luggage in the cab. That piece of luggage held every piece of clothing that Bobbie owned. Fortunately the cab driver remembered Bobbie, and, in the end, her luggage arrived.”
Presented in the style of classic fashion portraiture, “DRAGS” features legends – and up-and-coming legends – in glamorous, black and white, full-length studio portraits. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Ali Forney Center, a New York-based non-profit that is dedicated to helping homeless LGBTQ youth.
While basking in the success of the project, Kramer has already moved onto his next series of subjects.
“I just started shooting a project called DOWNTOWN,” he said. “It’s studio portraits of the downtown scene including burlesque dancers, cabaret performers, writers, influencers and of course a few more drag kings and queens.”
To learn more about Gregory Kramer’s DRAGS, visit dragsbook.com.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.