The House Ballroom scene is an over 50 year old tradition of pageantry in the U.S. where working-class African-American and Latina/o queer youths from urban inner cities come together to examine what it means to be gendered and sexed. Originating in Harlem as a forum for queer “ kings” and “queens” to express themselves, Balls are where participants compete in categories such as “butch queen sex siren,” “transman body,” and “femme-queen big girl realness.” Here, young adults are part of houses with glamorous names like Blahnik and Xtravaganza. They have to scrabble together dimes and dollars to build their next outfit; with street drugs, they morph their own bodies to an internal vision of soft curves and high voices; and by necessity, they play doctor, shrink, beautician, and health advisor to one another. Often ousted by their biological families, these “children” have makeshift “parents,” who may only be ten years old than them. Although the Balls are ostensibly about fashion and prestige, they are also, and much more deeply about building family and manifesting selfhood.
Through photography, I have made a conscious choice to document marginalized communities in an effort to bring honor to their existence, as well as to provide a critical journey for those who are not yet seen. As individuals and as society, I believe we struggle the most with what is unseen or what we are afraid to see. Thus, I am interested in making images that challenge the viewer to reveal and address their own relationship and expectations of the subjects.
Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Gerard Gaskin (Queens, NY) received his BA in Liberal Arts from Hunter College (NYC), where he studied Photography with Roy DeCarava. As a freelance photographer, his work is widely published in newspapers and magazines in the United States and abroad including The New York Times, Newsday, Black Enterprise, King, Teen People, Caribbean Beat, and Downtown Beat Magazine. He has also worked alongside several record companies including Island, Sony, Def Jams, and Mercury records. Gaskin’s photographs have been exhibited across the country including at the Brooklyn Museum and Queens Museum of Art, and abroad in Goethe-Institute Accra (Accra, Ghana) and Fototeca de Cuba Habana (Vieja, Cuba) among others. Additionally his photographs are included in the collections of the Museum of the City of New York, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Queensborough Community College Art Gallery. Gaskin was a 2002 recipient of a NYFA Fellowship in Photography and a 2005 Queen Council on the Arts Individual Artists Award and in 2010 he was an Artist-in-Residence at Light Work (Syracuse, NY). His work has appeared in books, including Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch (2005), Black: A Celebration of A Culture (2004), Committed To The Image: Contemporary Black Photographers (2001), and New York: A State of Mind (2000). Gerard Gaskin was an artist-in-residence at CPW in June of 2011.