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Cara Lee Wade: Through the Glass Nightly

The Art of Drag

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


In honor of GLBT Pride Month (every June), Wunderkammer Company is hosting an exhibition of Cara Lee Wade's sometimes controversial, but always genuine and original exhibition "Through the Glass Nightly: The Art of Drag", as well as some additional programming geared toward the investigation of gender, sexuality, and their intersection with the everyday. This large body of photography depicts the tender moments of self-reflection, commitment, and love as well as the frenzied life of stage performance and boundaries of gender being pushed past convention.

Cara Lee Wade, a fine art photographer as well as associate professor of studio art and photography at the University of Saint Francis, made this body of work during the 10 years that she lived in Savannah Georgia, as she worked on the show bar floor of Club One Jefferson, one of the South's premiere gay bars.

"I got hired because I was straight, Wade explains. "The club had just initiated some new deal for unlimited cups of well drinks to attract the college crowd, and they needed a young girl to tend bar to keep some of the guys interested. Over time I was placed on the Show Bar floor, began to really get to know the performers."

Wade soon found herself becoming very close friends with the performers and considers her time with them as being "adopted into their family." This familial love is something that makes Wade's work and experience bring new light to this community thatis often talked about, but rarely spoke with. Wade's photography gives so many of the Queens represented within them a new voice, in a time when there are more ears to listen.

"Through the Glass Nightly" includes images of the Drag Queens or female illusionists aging, learning, loving, and performing. It includes the intimate images of a wedding, between Marlon "Tiffany" Dubois and Ricky Smith, with Venus and Layla Foxxx as bridesmaids, showing the omnipresence and the everyday role that love plays, even in circles which may seem on the surface to different from the norm. It also touches on loss in a number of ways. Loss of loved ones, the loss of one's youth, the loss of oneself in certain ways.

However, as a whole, "Through the Glass Nightly" is a body of work which carries the viewer into a new world which looks very much like our own, but different. In this place, the stage is central, and Wade uses its light to capitalize on the performer's own extravagance. "I don't do studio light," Wade says."I like to find my light. I would rather spend hours searching for my light than spend the same amount of time or more trying to create it." By focusing on the stage lighting, which is both artificial and incredibly specific, Wade finds a medium which envelopes her work, easily transporting the viewer into the contextual "audience" for each performer. This allows the viewer to glimpse in and feel the texture of the wardrobe, the beating sounds, and the friction of the snaps being presented in each of Wade's images.

Through this visual understanding of Wade's Drag family, the viewer acclimates itself to their particular flair, their peculiarities, and among other aspects, their ability to emote, not always what they wish. There are many moments captured within "Through the Glass Nightly" where Wade was able to capture the Queens in moments of self-reflection or lost in the feeling of an emotion both on and off stage. The images of pre-show ritual, detailing the way that the Queens apply their face, arching their necks to fix their hair, and adding pieces to supplement their natural form to create something more. It is in this ritual that their "normalcy" is masked and revealed over and over, as they create a personality, then self-consciously move marks and add colors to re-create and perfect it.

As the truest of documentary work, Wade's photos are now a complete story, but began as photos of this life, and projects for some of her first photo classes in school. Fate would have it that Wade would choose to live in Savannah, Georgia, attending SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in the mid and late nineties, a great time for the city, and an interesting time in our culture where progress had opened up many communities. Wade began working at Club One Jefferson in 1996, the year that John Berendt's book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was released. In 1997, when the film adaptation came out, Wade had worked on the Show Bar floor for long enough to know the family of performers as they began to experience amounts of fame. In the movie, a prominent character named "The Lady Chablis," a regular performer at Club One, and one of the Queens depicted in "Through the Glass, Nightly" provides a lighter note to this true crime story. Being directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack, the film turned Chablis into a celebrity, and the town into a hip spot to live. Wade describes this time as being "as the City became cool" as opposed to now, "when there is a McDonald's across the street from the Starbucks, downtown." And so, the growth of Wade as a women, the lives and careers of the Queens themselves, and the development of this city all hold roles within the story told in "Through the Glass Nightly."

In addition to the exhibition itself, Wunderkammer Company will present an artist talk with Cara Lee Wade on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 7pm, where she can provide the context and personal stories to go along with the images in "Through the Glass Nightly: The Art of Drag." Additionally, Carl Jylland-Halverson will be giving a presentation of his work, "Swimming in the Masculine River: a Multicultural perspective on the Continuum of Masculinity", Wednesday, June 27, 2013 at 7pm.

For more Information:
"Through the Glass Nightly: The Art of Drag"
@ Wunderkammer Company
3402 Fairfield Ave
Fort Wayne, IN 46807

Artist talk with Cara Lee Wade on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 7pm,

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.