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Photographer Jeremy Kost sheds some light on his colorful subjects

June 21, 2011 | 10:00 am

Jkostbookimage New York-based photographer Jeremy Kost is known best for his Polaroid photographs of the most colorful characters in nightlife, including legendary drag queens, transvestites and generally people who create elaborate images for themselves with hair, makeup, heels and a huge persona.

“It’s the fantasy that attracts me,” says Kost “My relationship to the characters and subjects is the metaphor for transformation. They’re like butterflies.”

Though Kost has made a solid dent in the art and nightlife scene over the last decade with his raw and raucous depictions of what aren't your average drag queens but as he points out are “more fantasy, crazy characters, twisted, borderline out of a Tim Burton film,” Kost's career started innocently enough when one night he picked up a friend's Polaroid camera and started snapping pictures.

We caught up with him over the phone from New York, just days after the release of his new photography book “It’s Always Darkest before Dawn.”

How did you get started in photography and specifically start focusing on people in nightlife?
I took a friend’s Polaroid camera out one night to gay night club and started taking pictures. I like to say my whole career happened by mistake. As far as the people, I knew I was visually stimulated by them, but it developed into a conceptual practice and I started realizing what the work meant and represented.

The title of your book is somewhat mysterious. Is it supposed to be about the transformation and emerging from one thing to another? Jkostcover
The title was really serendipitous. I was sitting at dinner at my favorite Chinese place in New York, trying to think of title for my publisher. I was bantering back and forth with my friends and nothing was coming together. I opened one of the fortune cookies and literally this phrase came out (of the cookie). I thought OK, this is it. This has to be the title. It’s the idea of -- is it way too late or way too early?

There are so many elaborate and visually interesting people in your book and that you seem to shoot regularly, do you have any muses?
Amanda Lepore is a muse, they’ve changed over time.  There is also Rainblow and Veruca La Piranha. If you look at the book as a whole, the characters I am attracted to are on that fantastical side-they’re really freaks. I’ve also been finding some really exciting characters in L.A lately, mostly from Orange County and San Diego … people like Disco Dolly and Glitz Glam.

It’s not all nightlife shots in this book, there seem to be quite a few more “editorial” images of the characters in daytime settings.
I’ve actually been shooting less and less in nightlife and focusing more on portrait collage taken during the daytime.  I played with the idea of performance and identity and transformation out of context. What does it mean for this character to be dressing up when it’s unexpected? What does it represent and say about this process and person? The landscape becomes more a part of the piece, creating this surreal reality.

In addition to this book, a collage of yours has recently gone up at the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood.  Were you inspired by L.A when creating that piece?
It’s called Boulevard of Broken Dream and it’s about a specific block of Hollywood Boulevard. When you think about Hollywood Boulevard, it has this air of fame and fortune and glamour, but it can be a pretty disgusting place. I wanted to make this piece to really look at what it is -- broken dreams and fantasies.

-- Melissa Magsaysay

Photos: An image from Kost’s book/Jeremy Kost. The cover of "It’s Always Darkest before Dawn," Powerhouse Books / Jeremy Kost

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