Jimmy Paulette after the Parade, NYC, like Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a taxi, NYC (Tate P78046) and Jimmy Paulette and Taboo! undressing, NYC 1991 (Tate P11513), is one of a large series of colour photographs of glamorous drag queens taken in New York, Paris and Berlin in 1991. These are compiled with other photographs of people of ambiguous gender in Goldin’s third published book, The Other Side, named after the Boston bar she and her friends frequented during the 1970s. In this picture, Jimmy Paulette stands facing the camera directly, illuminated against the dark street behind him by Goldin’s flash, which casts a narrow band of dark shadow under his perfectly made up chin. His heavy drag makeup is complemented by a glamorous blonde wig and long beaded earrings. A gold bra worn over a stretchy white net cut-away t-shirt provides a further token of femininity while in no way camouflaging the maleness of Jimmy Paulette’s body. Like his name, which combines male and female, he presents an image of androgyny. Goldin first encountered drag queens in 1972 and quickly became obsessed. She explained:
I was eighteen and felt like I was a queen too ... they became my whole world.
Part of my worship of them involved photographing them. I wanted to pay
homage, to show them how beautiful they were. I never saw them as men dressing
up as women, but as something entirely different – a third gender that made more
sense than either of the other two. I accepted them as they saw themselves; I had
no desire to unmask them with my camera.
(Quoted in The Other Side, p.5.)
In the early 1970s Goldin and her gay friends were inspired by the camp decadence portrayed in such artists’ films as Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures 1961. Their social lives revolved around glamorous dressing up in order to live out the fantasy of reconstructed identities. Goldin’s earliest photographic work in black and white comprises portraits of room-mates and close friends transformed through the effects of drag glamour. Goldin photographed them at home and in The Other Side. She developed her personal, spontaneous snapshot aesthetic in this environment following the precedent of Hungarian-born George Brassai (1899-1984) who photographed Paris night club scenes in the 1920s. This initial series of images was interrupted when Goldin went to study art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1974. Throughout the 1980s, while she was living in New York, Goldin continued to socialise with and photograph people of ambiguous gender, although her main work during this period, documented in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency 1981, was about the difficulty of heterosexual relationships. In 1990 she met a new group of drag queens and began a new series of images. She commented: ‘After years of experiencing and photographing the struggle of the two genders with their codes and definitions and their difficulties in relating to each other, it was liberating to meet people who had crossed these gender boundaries.’ (Quoted in The Other Side, p.6.)
Over the years Goldin’s work has challenged sexual taboos and emphasised the importance of communities. Her photographic record of intimate moments in her life and those of her friends influenced a generation of photographers seeking to validate their lifestyles outside the norms of acceptable behaviour. When Goldin began photographing drag queens in the early 1970s, their existence was still underground; nearly twenty years later, in the early 1990s, homosexuality had carved its own place in American society. Goldin said: ‘I’ve met other women who are infatuated with queens and transsexuals but I still haven’t found a definition. There is a sense of freedom in having a desire that has never been labelled. As a bisexual person, for me the third gender seems to be the ideal.’ (Quoted in The Other Side, p.7.)
Goldin produced Jimmy Paulette after the Parade, NYC in an edition of twenty-five, of which Tate’s copy is the third.
Nan Goldin: I’ll be your Mirror, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1996
Nan Goldin, The Other Side, Manchester, England 1993, reproduced p.63 in colour