Surgeon. Farmer. Attorney. Scientist. Some of these professions might not be immediately thought about when it comes to someone from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer community.
Photographer and Riverdalian Tom Atwood, however, wants to change that.
In his new book “Kings & Queens in Their Castles,” Atwood expands the way many people view the LGBTQ community. His photography series, capturing famous and everyday people at home, offers an unguarded glimpse into their lives.
“I see ‘Kings & Queens in Castles’ as a telling metaphor for the subjects in the series,” Atwood said. Those subjects are leaders ranging from actors, writers and elected officials.
The title also is a nod to the drag kings and queens of the LGBTQ community, and members of the aristocracy from history who were possibly thought to be gay or lesbian, he added.
Typical LGBTQ photography focused on scantily clad young urban subjects, seemingly emphasizing nudity and sexuality, Atwood said. He wanted instead to offer a different perspective, creating a series of images that were a source of pride for the community and showcase role models.
“I want people to see we are like everybody else,” Atwood said. “We live in houses like everybody else and we present a broad variety of professions and geographies just like everybody else. I feel like, even the media today in 2017, gay and lesbian people are frequently shown in these stereotypical professions: hairdresser, fashion designer. And, there are a disproportionate number of people in those professions.”
Atwood’s LGBTQ friends work in a variety of professions, and the photographer wanted to have a similar diversity reflected in his photos.
One notable subject in recent years is author and “Hairspray” screenwriter John Waters.
“He is an example of someone whose home really reflects him and his personality,” Atwood said. “I felt like you could tell a lot based on his home and how he lived (in) it. He’s really quirky, as you probably know, and he had an execution chair in his entryway. He took a Polaroid of me when I arrived and tacked it up on the wall. He takes pictures of everyone that kind of arrives and visits his place.”
With actress Meredith Baxter, perhaps best known from the 1980s television sitcom “Family Ties,” she’s in the kitchen drinking a smoothie, her mail sitting on the countertop, health supplements in full view. During her photo shoot, Baxter talked about her daughter who had went away to college. Atwood captured Baxter while lost in thought.
“I tried to engage the subjects and almost get them to forget that we are in a photo shoot,” Atwood said.
For Baxter and all of the subjects in his book, Atwood met with every one alone. By not having an assistant with him, Atwood said, he kept the process more informal and made it easier to connect with his subjects.
One of Atwood’s most memorable images is a picture he took of internet entrepreneur Dmitri Ponomarev as he stood on his terrace. There is a rainbow in the background, a popular symbol of the LGBTQ community.
“It was just luck,” Atwood said. “It was pretty amazing. It’s so colorful. It’s almost as if it had been doctored up in some way, but it hasn’t. It was just there in the sky, and then some birds flew by.”
Atwood found subjects by tapping his network of contacts, posting on message boards, writing letters, and research. In the more than 10 years he spent making the book, Atwood photographed 350 subjects in 30 states, and a little more than a third ended up in the book.
Some of the people featured include “Star Trek” actor George Takei, former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and CNN anchor Don Lemon.
Publications like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Washington Post have featured Atwood’s work. He won photographer of the year from London’s Worldwide Photography Gala Awards, and first place in portraiture in the Prix de la Photographie Paris, adding to his more than 30 awards.
His first book, “Kings in Their Castles” — about the gay urban community— was published in 2005.