By Angela Valente Romeo

Peter Palladino is an elusive figure – gray hair flying, camera in hand. His eye, however, is sharp and clear. Pete studied photography at UCLA. His work has been exhibited globally. Peter’s home base is now the Agnes Pelton House in Cathedral City that he shares with his longtime partner, Simeon Den. On November 6th, Peter’s SNAP! exhibition opens at the Smith Vargas Gallery in Palm Springs.

“SNAP! originally opened in Los Angles,” said curator Simeon Den. “Peter captured iconic drag performers and gay porn stars to highlight the subtext of gender behavior. We learn our gender behavior and then make choices. These images reflect the hyper-femininity and hyper-masculinity depicted by gay men.”

“What makes this exhibit more poignant, since this work was first shown 5 years ago, our cultural views of gender have changed,” continued Simeon. “We accept gender fluidity but perhaps not the critical thinking that allows us to freely acknowledge sexual identity and fluidity. We sometimes forget that acceptance was not readily available. The fear of being ‘outed’ was real for many. Today, it seems the fear of being ‘outed’ has lessened as we embrace the individual. These images are a reminder of our recent history.”


“Drag queens have much to do with the history of gay culture. The drag queens were on the front lines of bringing the discussion of gay rights to the forefront. Recall the events at The Stonewall on June 28, 1969. This was the beginning of gay rights, of our right to be accepted for who we are. Peter’s photographs of the icons of the drag queen world capture beauty and femininity but the work also captures something more. The black and white imagery belies a world that was harsh as acceptance was not easily won.” When looking into the eyes, there is a sense of worldliness that a smile cannot.

Peter has built a career capturing the images of the person. His celebrity clients include Stevie Wonder, Cindy Crawford, Michael York, John Waters, Frenchie Davis, and Drag icons including Lypsinka, Jackie Beat, Coco Peru, and Andy Warhol superstar, Holly Woodlawn. But his work is much deeper than images of the infamous. “Peter’s other projects include images of Fabulous Women over 60 and Environmental Portraits documenting residents of Cathedral City Cove where we live. Peter’s sensibility is evident – beauty can only be captured by a lens when the subject feels comfortable being who they are. SNAP! May challenge your sensibility of what is beauty but it should not be dismissed as a drag show. These people are being true to themselves.”

Several portraits include gay porn stars. “These portraits are not salacious. Each portrait, gay, transgender, transsexual, depicts people in control of their own destiny. How the outside world may view their profession is of no consequence.”

“I think much has changed since I started photographing transgender, Drag Queens and porn-stars, “ said Peter Palladino “When I started these portraits I shot only in black and white, capturing hard-edge people on the periphery of any society, gay or straight. The work was developed in the dark room, fitting since my portrait captured people who seemed to only exist in the darkness.”

“It started with the club kids in New York trying to outdo each other and the overkill was numbing to me after a while,” continued Peter. “By the time Rue Paul’s Drag-Race was a TV fixture, I began to lose interest. It is not subject matter I would be interested in photographing today; maybe partly because I am old and jaded, but for me it was like a snake eating its tail. Outrages had become cliché,” he noted.

snap poster“It’s really all relative isn’t it? I was 17 and witnessed the Stonewall Riots. I fell in love with Warhol’s superstars, Candy Darling, Jackie Kurtis and Holly Woodlawn, the only one that lived long enough for me to photograph. She dragged her ass out in the pouring rain to attend the first exhibit of SNAP! in Hollywood. I loved early John Waters. But, my God, John Travolta playing Divine’s role in Hairspray! Kill me now!” sighed Peter. “The street scene, the club scene, the drag scene, it has all become mainstream. I miss the days of underground. I don’t know if THEY became less interesting or I just became uninterested. Lady Gaga stole the whole drag thing and she’s a woman! We are rapidly becoming homogenized.”

Peter continues “I will say I feel blessed that I got to photograph ‘the best in show’ and masters of their craft. I must sound like Norma Desmond! And it is true ‘I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.’ We didn’t need dialog we had faces.”

Peter Palladino’s SNAP! opens on November 6th, at the Smith Vargas Gallery ( in Palm Springs. For more information on Peter’s work visit