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Local photographer, drag king aims to document LGBTQ performer community in 'Queerbook'

Local photographer Chris Jennings had always taken photos of queer performers at local events, but often, the real names of people behind drag went unknown, she said. Even at her own events, says Jennings — also a drag king, “Chris Jay,” who was recently named King of Baltimore Pride 2018 — much of the community didn’t know the performers by name.

That’s when she thought, “maybe I should just get out and travel [and photograph] all of the performers that entertain our communities,” said Jennings, 38.

Realizing there was a need to show the queer performers in a new light, Jennings decided to launch “The Queerbook: The Queer Performers Yearbook” project, for which she would travel the country and take “school pictures with a twist” of drag queens and kings, and other queer performers, including dancers, actors, singers and musicians.

Jennings, who has been a photographer for around 20 years, plans to compile the photos in a book similar to that of a yearbook, which she will self-publish once her journey is complete. Her goal is to travel to all 50 states by May 2019. The project will begin in Baltimore this Sunday, where Jennings will host an open photo shoot at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, the organization confirmed.

Jennings, who has spread the word online and to artists within the various cities, said the casting call-like sessions will be quick, requiring interested performers to fill out a form, which asks for a quote, much like a yearbook. During the photo shoot, Jennings will give participants just five to 10 snaps “to show who they are as a person.” Her hope is to pay homage to the people who entertain, and to “make people pay attention to their own communities,” she said.

Jennings’ wife, Sydney Lewis, a local burlesque performer and an instructor of women’s studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will co-author the book, prefacing it with some important history about the pride movement, for which queer performers, drag queens and kings, and transwomen played vital roles in facilitating and participating in the protests against police brutality and the policing of their sexuality and clothing.

“When we’re talking about queer performers in general, we have a historical lineage as representatives in the community and [for being] at the forefront of political struggles … and healing and bringing the LGBT community together,” Lewis said.

It’s important, she said, to recognize the names of the people now making history.

“We’re so often on stage that we don’t necessarily know our names, where we’re from. … [We] get to do healing and liberation work, and then we kind of disappear.”

Jennings said she also plans to capture the eclectic LGBT scenes and queer performers in cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn and Seattle through November. Her hope is to branch out to a second wave of cities, like Chicago and Atlanta, and travel to Florida and both North and South Carolina, but much of her plan depends on funding.

Jennings set up a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign with the hope of raising $10,000 to assist with marketing and her travels to the first group of cities. So far, with only 11 days left in the campaign, Jennings’ project has generated $951 as of Thursday evening, but Jennings said she’s determined to do as much as she can with the resources that she has.

“The most important part of this project is participation, and the more people who even know about the existence of this project, the more this project can propel forward,” Jennings said.

If you go

Local photographer Chris Jennings will be taking pictures of queer performers for “The Queerbook” from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland. 2530 N. Charles St. 3rd Floor. For more information, go to thequeerbook.com.

bbritto@baltsun.com

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