On Being Photographed: “Female-Female Spiritual Transsexual” The World Famous *BOB* Presents the Subject’s Point of View
The World Famous *BOB* is a self-described “female-female spiritual transsexual” known in the NYC neo-burlesque scene for her over-the-top blonde bombshell image. Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* is photographer Amy Touchette’s collection of intimate black-and-white photographs of The World Famous *BOB*’s onstage and offstage life, recently published by Un-Gyve Press. Shoot the Arrow also includes The World Famous *BOB*’s written account of her gender evolution: from a farm girl in the California Valley, to a runaway taken under the “wig” of San Francisco’s drag queen community, to her current incarnation as a performer in New York City burlesque.
Here, The World Famous *BOB* writes about her shifting relationship to the camera lens. [Ed. note: a few photos after the jump NSFW]
It was the mid-90s. I was 24 years old. I had just moved to New York City and met Ned Ambler, a now dear friend, who had a casting agency. Through this connection I was asked to show up for a casting call for the world famous photographer Annie Leibowitz, who would be taking portraits of women for her book Girls. I showed up in a black-and-white op-art 1960s custom made string bikini. I was six foot two in my platform black shoes and had a perfectly coiffed platinum blond bubble wig, ’60s style Twiggy make-up, and a Dolly Parton body.
I waited in a long line with everybody else, and then when it was my turn, I stepped in front of her camera, and I started posing, and she gave me a little bit of direction. I listened to it. Wanting so bad to have the image I was just beginning to create in New York City be captured by this amazing photographer, I tried to be very compliant. But then she came out from behind her camera to make eye contact with me and she said, “Can you take off your wig?” I just looked at her and said, “No.” Unfortunately she had caught me at a time when I hadn’t completely composed my character enough to have the desire to decompose it. And to that she just said, “Next!”
I didn’t get in her book.
Which brings me to the subject of Shoot the Arrow, the work that Amy and I collaborated on. Sometimes people say, “What was it like having someone photograph you constantly?” Amy started out photographing me three hours a week, and then we graduated to 24-hour shoots. She would sleep in my bed and I would wake up to her photographing me, or it would be three in the morning after a late-night club gig, and I would be scrubbing off the glitter and the dust and the makeup, exhausted in the tub and she would be taking pictures.
To be that vulnerable with someone who was once a total stranger involves a special kind of trust. But the truth of the matter is, I was so taken by Amy and her desire to gently observe what was, and not alter it, that the intent she approached me with eventually gave her full range of my life. Taking off my wig for her was only the beginning.
Collaborations are always two-sided, and when I think back on our project and the hours that we worked together, besides a beautiful friendship, one of the things that I got out of this experience as a woman—and a person, but mainly as an artist—was an understanding of what is. I had so carefully and skillfully sculpted my image that to see pictures that represented and reflected nothing but the true bare moment was difficult. Somebody once said to me, “I’ve never seen an unflattering picture of you”—of course this was years ago—and I smiled, and laughed, and said, “That’s because I burned them all.”
And it was true. I had a very real need to control my image back then. It was a lot easier because it was pre-Internet. There weren’t iPhones in the crowd at burlesque shows, and you really could work with a photographer one-on-one. You really could say, “Please don’t ever print those. I don’t like how my chin looks” or “I don’t like how my butt looks.” I had a lot more control when I first started my drag career over 20 years ago.
When I began working with Amy, because of the documentary nature of our project, at first I thought I would just have to come to terms with the quote-unquote less flattering images, and as an artist be brave and courageous enough to let them out into the world and into the public, and use the beauty of them—the beauty that Amy brings to her work, the honesty of her photography specifically—as the excuse to let my less-than-beautiful self be seen.
But what ended up happening went far deeper than that. I realized that life is a collection of angles and views. Through Amy’s photographs, I somehow became okay with all aspects of myself. I didn’t look at a picture and wonder if it was physically flattering anymore. I looked at the picture for what it was. I looked at the picture with gratitude. Moments in time that would never happen again were being captured. The pictures were stories, and if there’s anything I love, it’s a good story.
Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* is published by Un-Gyve Press (Boston) and can be purchased through the Un-Gyve Press online bookstore. Copies signed by both The World Famous *BOB* and Amy Touchette can be purchased by contacting ClampArt. A selection of images from the book are exhibiting until Saturday, Nov 16 at ClampArt, 521-531 West 25 Street, New York City.
Amy Touchette is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn who has exhibited and been published nationally and internationally. Her photographs explore social themes, often focusing on the streets of New York City. Follow her on Instagram for her daily sketches or visit www.amytouchette.com.
The World Famous *BOB* is currently hosting top-shelf worldwide burlesque events and has her own confidence coaching practice in NYC. Her Ultimate Self Confidence! workshop for women at The New York School of Burlesque is a life changing experience that sells out monthly. For upcoming tour dates and workshop information or to contact *BOB* visit www.theworldfamousbob.com.