“To Be Gay is to Be Political.” Scott Grabell’s Homopropaganda is All about Empowerment
By Allison Krupp . June 20, 2016
Photography as performance—and as protest, is the heartbeat of LOVEGAYPEOPLE, a mission forged by Berlin’s own Scott Grabell, or Scotty the Blue Bunny’s, that links the ‘40s and the first-wave AIDS of the ‘80s to modern photographs of strong, dynamic gay people.
These performances—found in each living, breathing photograph, taken by Scotty himself—offer a “flood of politically obvious images in response to Vladimir Putin’s attack on ‘gay propaganda.’” And, most notably, each performer carries a pink triangle, this icon that, in WWII, was used as a symbol of persecution and then later, in the ‘80s, as a symbol of protest. This legacy is held with pride, as a “fight against oppression,” as a “focal point for belonging.” It is a symbol of empowerment on this driven search for gay heroes, in this time of continued and entrenched prejudice.
As Scotty the Blue Bunny says: “No way do I believe homosexuality is becoming more of a norm. Fish for breakfast is becoming more of a norm.” And so, the protest continues. And we’ve never seen a protest look so damn good.
His upcoming exhibition is in Berlin on July 15 through August 15 at Ivooo’s Fotostudioladen. We were able to speak with Scotty about his mission, about his views on photography, and about life outside of the bunny suit.
BLY: As a gay man in a bunny suit, can you describe the feeling of being photographed? Are you revealing something inner, hidden, when you pose—or rather are you creating something with the pose?
I love taking photos, and I love the art of posing. It’s a skill all unto its own. Thanks to popular TV shows like Top Model or Drag Race, people see it’s so much more than “suck it in!”. And as a rabbit, I have to figure out how to get my ass and face in almost every shot! Ears plus tail equals bunny!
For me, the easiest way to deal with cameras is to realize it’s another performance. You don’t really pose for the camera, you perform for it. And just like for a live audience, there’s a whole set of automatic body awareness corrections that snap into place. It’s the art of being visible. When I have a photo-shoot booked, I rehearse for it.
And yes. I am creating something. I’m creating contrast. That’s what I do. I stick out. Professionally.
BLY: Are photographs, to you, rather intimate–allowing people who might not “understand this lifestyle” to look at a person as just that–another person?
No way. I think good art makes you expand ideas you have about yourself. I think a good audience comes to the art experience looking for that. That is the joy of being in the audience. The art, or the show stays at the theater, but the viewer carries the experience with them when they leave. You go to look at a painting for what you feel in your body. How you feel inspires your perception.
I want people to look at my photos and recognize my subjects are exceptional! That’s the other idea about the number of them. When the viewer is outnumbered, I think there is a kind of healthy stress to find what’s exceptional about themselves. There’s an instinctive stress to try to relate.
That’s why I coached my subjects to have quiet expressions. I wanted there to be some way in for the viewer. I wanted the portraits to meet the viewer at this point of investigation. I wanted the viewer to feel seen in some way, and kind of force the introspection.
BLY: How do you think gay performance will change and grow as homosexuality becomes even more of a norm and these heroes are accepted?
No way do I believe homosexuality is becoming more of a norm. Fish for breakfast is becoming more of a norm. Just look at the news. Orlando and all the ignorant broadcast BS after. The world as a whole is nowhere near poised to support LGBTQI+ people completely.
For me, to be gay is to be political. All you have to do is look at suicide rates and hate crime statistics, and you know this. The people in my photographs are not subjects. They are protesters.
BLY: If you are becoming one of these new gay heroes, how do you accept this role–how do you act as a role model? Relatedly, do you think Scotty the Blue Bunny or Scott, outside of the bunny suit in the real world, is more of a role model?
My work in and out of the bunny suit is delightfully intertwined. Whatever I do privately in my underwear informs what I do in a bunny suit, and vice versa. In regular clothes, I kinda get to witness and observe. I move through the streets collecting data. The bunny gives the report.
I work to present an empowered character. The bunny suit is somewhat disarming, but for me, it’s a point of contrast that makes theater. I learned on the streets of NYC that no one does more for the movement than the Queens, and I am part of that legacy. Costumes are my boombox. You have to cut through with noise, and I suppose a sparkly blue bunny suit and high heels is my kind of noise.
The most heroic thing anyone is doing in any of my photographs is just living their lives. I’m photographing people at work. Tourism loves to advertise entertainment. They love to advertise theater and nightclubs. Well, these are the people that make that economy possible, and pay tax on their income, yet they are not allowed to marry, or feel safe in the streets. That is why I have politicized them with the Pink Triangle. It’s very easy to live in some places and think: “What’s the big deal.” But the big deal is, as we have seen in Orlando, that in a flash, your safe space can become one of the many places where just living your basic day-to-day life is deadly. Having the capacity to love is deadly.
BLY: Is Berlin a special breeding ground for gay role models, in your opinion? Is that what brought you here?
I don’t know! Sometimes people stare at you for saying good morning! Honestly – sometimes I don’t know why I came here, but I’m glad I did. I really came here to not live in the US. I wanted to live abroad. But you know, in Germany, gay people can still not get married, so there is this feeling of living in a conservative environment.
Although, Berlin, like most major cities, offers great refuge in nightlife, theater, and certain neighborhoods. There is a general sense of communal flow on the streets, but it’s still conservative. That being said – I think that kind of contrast also creates some of the greatest queer icons and cultural rebels I’ve ever met. And you can really carve out your own thing here – there’s lots of space. So, whatever my intentions were, Berlin has become home.
BLY: Do you think all performers have a sort of necessary responsibility to show non-performers, or those “hidden,” not to be afraid?
No. I think audiences want to see someone enjoying themselves on stage, even in the most dramatic presentations. The nature of art has always been liberating. Some people feel liberated when they do math. You should take empowerment and liberation wherever you can find it. I don’t think we can show people not to be afraid. I think we can demonstrate bravery and empowerment.
BLY: Would you like the pink triangle to represent anything else in the future? Can you describe it?
The pink triangle is gorgeous as it is. It’s just a symbol, but it’s a symbol from history with a legacy. And this symbol belongs to gay people. It’s good for us to have something of our own.
For me, it’s not just about remembering, but memory as a protest. It’s not that it was used, or is just something from history. We are still using it to fight against oppression, and affirm each other now. It is a loaded mystical symbol from sacred geometry and alchemy. It’s a focal point for belonging, awakening our sense of magic, and vital transformation. I think I might have just written a definition of empowerment.
LOVEGAYPEOPLE will be shown from July 15 to August 15, 2016, at Ivoo Fotostudioladen.