“Well, I got in trouble for putting naked photos on the Internet when I was seventeen.”
Alexis Penney, Sore, 2014
“Well, I got in trouble for putting naked photos on the Internet when I was seventeen,” Alexis Penney told me, when I asked how long he’d been taking photos. Penney, who told me she doesn’t have a preferred gender pronoun, but that I could feel comfortable referring to her as “it, or the monster,” exhibits compulsive behavior. His twitter and Instagram operate nearly around the clock in strings of stream of consciousness and uncaptioned snapshots. He told me he’s had sex with more than a thousand people and taken thousands of snapshots every year for close to a decade.
Sometime around 2006 Penney found a deal at Walgreens, a camera and an indefinite supply of free film from as long as that’s where she got it developed at Walgreens, where she now has a corporate account. When she moved from her hometown of Kansas City to the San Francisco Bay Area, Penney started taking photographs and putting them online so she could show the San Francisco drag scene to his friends back home. The photos were also borne from a compulsive relation to drugs and alcohol. They functioned as an external memory for the nights Penney, now sober, couldn’t remember.
He told me he’s had sex with more than a thousand people and taken thousands of snapshots every year for close to a decade.
When pressed to think of why she takes so many pictures Penney mentioned the documentary work of Linda Simpson, a drag performer who’s been documenting New York’s drag scene since the 1980’s and the importance of making the formerly invisible history of queer culture visible. She added, “When you make the decision to point and shoot you are ascribing value to something.” Many of the following photographs are from a weekly drag show, Bath Salts, as well as Penney’s sex life and the performance-art collective of which he is a part, Chez Deep.
When I see these photos I’m reminded of Nan Goldin, Jack Smith, and the Viennese Actionists; Penney, however, cites neighborhood weirdos and the punk rock scene in Kansas City as influences. Of his practice, he says, “I’m not the only one with a shitty 35 mm camera and interesting friends.”
(All right reserved. Text @ Owen Campbell. Images @ Alexis Penney.)