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©Kit Kittle 2021

Roughnecks and drag queens cover both edges of the expression of American manhood. The roughneck photos were shot from 1979 until 1984 in Alaska, Texas and Louisiana. Roughnecks was published by Taylor Publishing of Dallas in 1985. The drag queens were photographed from 1983 until 1987 in the West Village of New York City. Drag Queens: Street Theatre of the ‘80s was published in 2015 by Kit Kittle himself through a Kickstarter project.

Roughnecks are industrial cowboys that drill oil wells down south and offshore. They are unique in the aggressive pride that they show in their masculinity. Roughnecks are the very embodiment of the traditional American values of enterprise, freedom, and individuality. The values of the roughneck–the good and the bad–are brought to the surface in Roughnecks. These brilliant images show the subjects as willing and unmanipulated participants in the photographic process, proud of processing the strengths their occupation demands, fiercely attached to their existence and community.

Unlike roughnecks, drag queens love cameras. The drag clothes are just a taste of the attitude, the poses just a glimpse of the character. Drag queens are supremely theatrical and will evolve into their feminine selves so deeply that to approach with a camera instantly puts the photographer into a collaboration with his subject, if only momentarily. They would charm you, entertain you and put on grand performances with perfect poses dropped in for a flash. It was vibrant street theatre, spontaneous little dramas happening on the streets that invited people into the magic world each one was creating.

It was when one of Kit’s very good friends, Eddie stone, got sick in 1987 and soon after died, that he realized there could be no book. The slides sat in Kit’s archives for twenty-five years, seen by almost no one. Kit continued with his career and focused on commercial work but was always disappointed that this story had not been told. Years later he started thinking about the book that had never been made, the subjects–whom he had always felt an obligation to immortalize–and how he wanted to share their story.

Drag Queens are of unique people from a special period of time that does not exist anymore. For drag queens, it’s before the AIDS crisis hit. For Roughnecks, it’s before political correctness, drug testing and male vanity overran their lifestyle.

These two extremes of American manhood have diminished in today’s society.

The photos in these books reflect both the humor and wildness of the drag queens and roughnecks alike. These photographs serve as a reminder of the crazy characters that once thrived during this time.