Over the past 15 years, Tom Atwood has made more than 350 environmental portraits of LGBTQ Americans from all walks of life. He published Kings in Their Castles: Photographs of Queer Men at Home, in 2005 (University of Wisconsin Press). This month, Atwood is publishing a new collection called Kings & Queens in Their Castles (Damiani) featuring 160 gay and transgender subjects. The portraits include 60 celebrities—George Takei, Dan Savage, Kate Clinton, Meredith Baxter, Barney Frank, Simon Doonan, to name just a few. But Atwood has also photographed LGBTQ farmers, beekeepers, attorneys, doctors, members of the clergy and law enforcement, and his portraits underscore their diversity. “It’s helpful to highlight that LGBTQ folks are in many ways like everyone else, and as diverse as society as a whole. Yet on another level, there is a common LGBTQ sensibility that sets us apart that I wanted to recognize and celebrate,” he writes in his introduction.
Atwood poses his subjects, more or less, in their studies, offices, kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, as well as in their yards and on their porches. The details of the settings are often fascinating, and reveal much about the subjects: their work and interests, their tastes and esthetics, their socioeconomic status, their personal habits. Atwood captures many of his subjects a little off guard. We see them mid-thought or mid-sentence, distracted by phone calls, partners, and pets, or in some other in-between moment. Atwood has a good sense of timing, and an eye for natural, unguarded gesture, as well as for nuance and symmetry. Some of his photographs affirm LGBTQ stereotypes, while others challenge them. But Atwood raises empathy and understanding by humanizing everyone he photographs. And besides all of that, his portraits are just plain fun to look at. —David Walker