Each year that I returned to Mardi Gras, the images became more intimate as my relationships with the central characters deepened, while the caliginous beauty of Mardi Gras opened doors to a richer understanding of my own identity and beliefs.
Growing up as an aspiring musician and artist in small town Canada led artist and filmmaker Ric Kokotovich to an early fascination with what he describes as the “subculture, mayhem and magic that was Mardi Gras….” In 1983 his obsession with New Orleans’ iconic celebration compelled him to drive to the Louisiana city and document the festivities. Over the next five years, Kokotovich returned to Mardi Gras to continue his photographic series, gravitating to the drag queens and LGBTQ community in New Orleans – subjects who were the most open and responsive to his lens. At first Kokotovich felt voyeuristic, but quickly became integrated within a community that readily accepted him and his photographic work.
Over the years he developed close relationships with his subjects, which is reflected in the intimacy and playfulness of the images. Kokotovich’s primary objective was to create a series of portraits juxtaposing the fantastical characters of Mardi Gras against the grit of the city’s French Quarter. The resultant images speak to the radical power of public procession, performance, costume and celebration in forming individual and collective notions of identity. However, as time passes the photos take on added complexity and their documentation of specific communities and locations become an important part of the historical record. Both the city of New Orleans and the LGBTQ community sustained devastating losses through Hurricane Katrina and the AIDS crisis respectively. This series provides powerful remembrance of people and places that perhaps no longer exist. These images operate as a joyful monument to a moment in time, depicting a city and a community in flux.
Ric Kokotovich has worked as an artist and filmmaker for over 35 years, exhibiting his photographic work nationally and internationally. Kokotovich currently lives and works in Merida, Mexico.