"Pages" does so much with just a smattering of images. Linda Simpson is an entertainer, drag documentarian, and a Manhattan institution. Her first photo-book is a tribute to her friend and transgender entertainer, Page Potter Reynolds. These photos tell a story that expounds on gender and sexual politics, the 1990s, and drag/transgender history.
The photos of Page collected throughout their friendship feel like a look book for Lady Gaga or a photo spread for W magazine. Page had many diverse looks ranging from fashion forward and high fashion to everyday commercial and even performance art. It's clear that Page isn't just a drag queen because not only is she stunningly beautiful, but also she is not shy about exposing her bare breasts. Her looks challenge gender stereotypes including some winks and a nod to popular female archetypes like the housewife or fashion model.
This book feels like a time capsule that captures so much of New York City at the time. Despite it being only one model, Page captures the club kid moment in New York City history. She also has day looks that reference other moments in fashion. She also captures a part of drag culture. Despite being transgendered, there was a time where both female illusionists and transgendered individuals were lumped together. They would perform together and often be confused with one another.
Linda references so much in a very brief bit of copy at the end of the book. She describes her relationship with Page and gives a brief history of the woman's tragic life. She was raised in WASPy Vermont and joined the ranks of some of Manhattan's celebrated drag performers. However, rather than lip-syncing and participating in drag conventions, as a pre-op transgendered woman, Page would subvert gender expectations and sing her own songs. It's also clear from some of the photos that she would expose her body and use it to subvert gender expectations.
Page is a stunning and fascinating subject. There's an almost wholesome look to her face that hides much of the tragedy of her life. Her innocent cherubic face is paired with harsh and cutting-edge fashion choices, bizarre costumes, or just the shock of a nude Page.
The only disappointing aspect of the book is the lack of context for the photos. The photos are outright stunning, but it would have been nice to have a little discussion of the club kid movement, the popular drag shows and events. It seems required to have an inherent knowledge of New York City in the 1990s to really understand the context of certain time periods, photos, locales, etc.
Ultimately, "Pages" is a touching love letter to a deceased friend with a collection of avant-guarde and historically celebratory photographs of a nightlife celebrity worthy of a larger popularity.
Photos by Linda Simpson