In middle school, the formative days of her photography career, Kelly Davidson snapped portraits of dolls, and she took it seriously. She’d ditched her Keystone LeClic camera in favor of her first single-lens reflex, and had chosen dolls — not those of the collectable, porcelain variety, but Rainbow Brite and Cabbage Patch (staple toys for any child of the ’80s) — as her first subjects. Davidson (a former Phoenix designer and current freelancer) set up the dolls — first individually, and then en masse in a perfect line — on her parents’ yellow linoleum floor, with the refrigerator looming over them. She’d created her first work of photographic art in a kitchen in Connecticut.
LIVING DOLL: Davidson’s contemplative portrait of Mizery — uncommon and unconventional.
A few decades and innumerable photos later, Davidson is still finding beauty in the uncommon and unconventional. Her upcoming show, “Drag Me Out, Drag Me In” (which opens Thursday, January 17, at the Paradise Lounge), is the repercussive amalgam of eight years’ worth of photographing drag queens. It began with a photo shoot of Ryan Landry, drag queen and performance artist extraordinaire, for Stuff@Night magazine. Following that successful shoot, Davidson began photographing drag queens for other publications, and taking press photos commissioned by the artists themselves.
“It was beautiful, because I don’t normally find people so ready for the camera,” she says over beers at The OtherSide Café. “I think they loved it.” Soon, Davidson was hanging out backstage at Machine, becoming friends with drag queens, and taking dates to Jacque’s Cabaret.
“Drag Me Out,” an assemblage of Davidson’s favorite outtakes from all of these experiences, is a visual reflection on her immersion into the drag-queen world. The photos don’t glamorize this subculture, nor do they exploit it; instead, they’re an intimate, affectionate glimpse into its inner workings: the hours of preparation and unthinkable amounts of glittery make-up, and the palpable sense of professionalism — these are some of the pros of Boston’s drag scene, after all — and absolute performance adoration. There’s a shot of a pair of feet on Machine’s white tiled bathroom floor, clad in loose, nude stockings and shoved uncomfortably into white heels, while a pair of boxy, abandoned black boots sit nearby. Another photo is a shadowy, contemplative side profile of Mizery, one of the city’s best-known drag queens, topless and adorned with David Bowie–esque striped make-up.
“It’s fascinating,” Davidson says, “because they’re more male and more female at once than I will ever be.”
“Drag Me Out, Drag Me In” runs from January 17 through March 7 at the Paradise Lounge, 969 Comm Ave, in Boston; call 617.562.8800.