Gina Giles, William Way LGBTQ Community Center

Gina Giles, Porcelain, digital print, William Way LGBTQ Community Center

Gina Giles was awarded a spot in the current three person art show at William Way LGBTQ Community Center as a prize for winning the community art show last year. The three artists each had a year to create an installation of their art in the lobby of the historic community center. Each artist created their own unique world of artworks activating the large space with three complete art shows. Thom Duffy’s serene watercolor still life paintings are lovely and Lance Pawling’s needlepoint and fiber art are divine, but Gina really delves into documenting the lives of Philadelphia drag queens, appropriate for the venue which creates a safe space for transgendered people to be themselves. Some viewers may see themselves in the photography, others get to glimpse behind the scenes into the world of female impersonation performance art.

I had never met Gina before but we sort of stared at each other. When I was finally introduced I asked her, “What were you staring at me for?”

“Just being a visual person, I like to look at people and differentiate how people look different from each other. It’s a visual arts thing.”

Gina Giles, William Way LGBTQ Community Center

Gina Giles, Unitled Image from Werk, digital archive print, William Way LGBTQ Community Center

Your subject matter is really unusual. Are you exploring the Philly drag scene in your photography?

“It is local. It’s all local drag queens that perform in Philadelphia. There is only one picture that’s not, it’s a watercolor that I painted while looking at the internet. Most of the photos are from Voyeur night club or Tabu. I photograph them a lot because they have become my friends over the few years that I’ve been shooting the series.”

I love the picture of Porcelain.

“She moved. I’m so sad. To L.A.”

I met Porcelain at a show at Moore College of Art and Design. She was part of an installation with video.

“I went to Moore. One of photos was up at the alumni show this year. I know about that series that went up. It was Porcelain, Ebony-Ivory Fierce and one more.”

How did you get the subjects to let you take their photos?

“I started shooting at Voyeur when the Haus Revenue was there on Wednesdays. I went there a couple times and shot some portraits and I just started befriending people through facebook. I would post what are basically glamour shot portraits and I would see that the drag queens would take them and for the whole week they would all be profile pictures. I didn’t care because, to be friends, and to network, you know? And then the Goddess Isis, that’s the third one from the Moore show, she hosts the Sinful Sundays at Tabu, I was talking with her and she really liked where I was going with it, like I was giving people another view, to show the real drag world instead of the Rupaul’s Drag Race kind of thing.

Local drag queens, that’s not really the word, they’re performers, doing their thing and making a living, I was documenting that and she said, ‘Sure, you can shoot behind the scenes.’ That’s how it started, then Mimi Imfurst, she was at Haus Revenue, let me shoot because everyone already knew me. They had seen the photos, I had earned their trust basically through facebook. I would use it to reach out to drag queens I hadn’t met to let them know when I would be shooting and let them know that they could use some of the work for themselves to represent their own purposes. I had a show at Bucks County Community College last year and I showed advertisements that they made, like flyers, that they used my pictures for and I was like, ‘Do whatever you want. Have fun!’ I don’t believe that art should be exclusive. You shouldn’t have to pay a high price for it, it should be available to everybody. You can use my photos as long as it’s not negative, if you’re not bashing with it, then I’m fine with it.”

Gina Giles, William Way LGBTQ Community Center

Gina Giles, WerkWilliam Way LGBTQ Community Center

I am a big fan of Moore. The graduating classes are always prepared for the real world with a firm handshake, a good elevator pitch, a sweet website and nice business cards.

 “Moore gets you ready for the real world, at least in the photo department. There a lot of younger teachers and they took us out to visit other working artists to see what it’s like. I really enjoyed that aspect of it and it’s so small, the school, that I’m still friends with all my teachers. And I still have friends. It’s weird for me because I got sick and had to leave school so I have friends from three different graduating classes. When I graduated my original class was two years before me. There’s a lot of school spirit and the business center works with you one-on-one and they help you get the opportunity to get a job right after college.

Some people don’t because they decide to not do art, they do something else. But like me, I got a job at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, it was my internship and now it’s one of my day jobs. It’s cool, I like it there.”

The show will be on view in the gallery from September 12 – October 31, 2014William Way LGBTQ Community Center 1315 Spruce St. Philadelphia, PA 19107, 1 (215)732-2220Monday through Friday 11:00am – 10:00pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12:00pm – 5:00pm.

Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted.

Read about Lance Pawling, one of the other three winning exhibiters at  William Way LGBTQ Community Center on DoNArTNeWs

Read about Thom Duffy, one of the other three winning exhibiters at William Way LGBTQ Community Center on DoNArTNeWs

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