Aspects of fashion and glamour were used as a form of all encompassing escapism and optimism in Jennie Livingstone’s iconic documentary Paris is Burning which followed the lives of young, gay and transgendered African American and Latino communities of New York in the late 1980s. The documentary was celebrated for its portrayal of the strength and elaborate fantasies that the contestant’s of the balls could carry through against the harsh reality of their lives. Relentless prejudice and hatred against the individuals shown in the documentary meant that fantasies of lives near impossible to achieve were materialised through the medium of dress and voguing.
The documentary has become cult since its release in 1990 and transfigured into a symbol of strength and alternative identities for the gay community ever since. However these particular photographs taken by Japanese photographer Katsu Naito were taken shortly after the release of Paris is Burning and show a much harsher reality of the existence of how many of this community were living. Naito’s photograph’s however do not excel with the obsession with realness but the evident poverty that was also experienced. Capturing the daily lives of transexual and transgender prostitutes on the streets of the meatpacking district their clothes and make -up is half hearted and incomplete and their gender barely disguised. It would be wrong to say that these images lack any kind of glamour, they possess a completely honest and beautiful confidence which has been so perfectly captured by the photographer.
During this period of time Naito had lost several friends to Aids and this prompted him to take interest in how these singular individuals risked their lives to earn their living. He encountered his subjects in the late afternoon once businesses and slaughterhouses had closed and a subculture of drugs and prostitution emerged.
These images were only just released as book named West Side Rendezvous two years ago and has unsurprisingly already sold out.