Tom Atwood on Photographing 'Kings & Queens in Their Castles'

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 15, 2017

Over 15 years ago, Tom Atwood photographed more than 350 subjects at home nationwide (with over 160 in the book), including nearly 100 celebrities (with about 60 in the book). With individuals from 30 states, Atwood offers a window into the lives and homes of some of America's most intriguing and eccentric personalities.

"Kings & Queens in Their Castles," his book consisting of the photos, has been called the most ambitious photo series ever conducted of the LGBTQ experience in the USA.

EDGE spoke to Atwood about his project.

Not a true representation

EDGE: Photos tell a story, what story are you trying to tell through 'Kings & Queens?'

Tom Atwood: Twenty years ago, I was sitting in a bookstore looking at gay photography books and they were all full of young gay men romping around naked. To me, this was not a true representation of who we are as a community. When I started this book, I really wanted to highlight the older generation that have lived through the AIDS epidemic and gay rights. I wanted to celebrate the gay sensibility. What I love about these photos is that you can really tell a lot about the subjects by how they live. It adds a biographical layer to them.

EDGE: How did you choose your subjects for this book?

Tom Atwood: I traveled through 30 different states to find these subjects. Most were referrals from friends. I spent hours of phone calls, writing, and posting to Facebook. As I traveled with my dad cross country, I did a lot of googling for gay and lesbian groups and networks for referrals.

Connecting with his subjects

EDGE: How do you go about connecting with your portrait subjects?

Tom Atwood: I always see my photography process as a social one. When I am shooting someone there is a lot going through my mind, especially from a technical standpoint, but through constant dialogue I am able to help my subject let their guard down and get comfortable in front of the camera.

EDGE: For the photos chosen, what makes them good?

Tom Atwood: It is a really hard process. Sometimes after one shoot, I would have over 400 photos of the same subject. For me, a good photo has a lot of stuff in the frame of the camera. Looking at the photo, I want to tell a story, something about the person. I wanted the subject to be prominent, but still have your eye wander a little and get a glimpse into their everyday life.

EDGE: Who was the most interesting person to shoot?

Tom Atwood: There were so many! Meredith Baxter from 'Family Ties' comes to mind. She lives in Santa Monica and I was surprised by her kitchen. It was nothing fancy, just a normal kitchen, and I could tell she felt really comfortable in it. What was surprising was how she really let her guard down and poured her soul out. The photo really catches her in a beautiful moment.

Different gays in the world

EDGE: What subjects, if any, surprised you with their willingness or denial to be photographed?

Tom Atwood: I had more than one reality show subject not like their hair and would not sign the release. It is funny that the really famous subjects were nice and chill about the photo shoot. The lesser well known were more like prima donnas. Director Randal Kleiser ('Grease') lives in LA on the side of a hill with a little barn with a horse and goat. The entire time I was wondering if these animals realized how lucky they are to live here with such a great view.

EDGE: Why was it important to you to share their story?

Tom Atwood: I feel like a lot of the gay series that I saw in the past were too sexual. I wanted to show there are lots of different gays that are living everywhere in the world. I wanted to create a body of work that was a touch tone of the gay community.

Role model

EDGE: What have you learned about yourself in this process either as a person or a photographer?

Tom Atwood: I guess I learned that I am a very social person. I really enjoy talking to the person throughout the shoot. It makes me and my subject more comfortable and I believe it makes for a better photo. I have also learned that I am equally comfortable working with and talking to anyone, it doesn't matter if you are a celebrity or not.

EDGE: Are you working on any new projects that you can talk about?

Tom Atwood: I have a few new projects that I am working on, but nothing that I am ready to talk about because I am still in the early stages of the planning process.

EDGE: What would you like for the reader to take away from this photo book?

Tom Atwood: At the end of the day, I just want the reader to enjoy the photos. I do hope the stories of the subjects that it provides some role models for younger people. I received a letter from a boy in OK that it inspired him to come out of the closet. I do love when my work inspires others.

For more information about Tom and his new book "Kings & Queens in Their Castles" visit visit his website.

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