Saturday, August 29, 2009

Brandon Norris and the Powerful and Mysterious Juanita More

Event and portrait photographer Brandon Norris welcomed a huge throng of over 150 friends, models, and photography lovers to his August 27, 2009, A Sobering Affect: Queer Portraiture by Brandon Norris show opening at the Electric Works Gallery in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. His inspiration, and the hostess for the event, Juanita More toured the expansive space with him, greeting and receiving compliments for her “golden glory” gowned look.

The first public view of Brandon Norris was of an intriguing young man in just his underpants kneeling on a collectible Booty Call flyer, photographed by Juanita More. Booty Call is Juanita More’s remarkable Wednesday night club at QBAR for people who feel left out or uncomfortable in the Castro Triangle scene of millennium clones and East Bay hipsters.

At the show opening Norris was wearing big glasses, flipped-up hair, and a plaid shirt for what was described as a high country look.

Norris began his photography as a 15-year-old with a film camera, but he did not consider himself a photographer until he started using a digital camera in 2007 to photograph queer night life, which escalated to his becoming the Booty Call club photographer.

Brandon Norris’ new show is curated by Natalie Pavlovsky and she points out in her notes that unlike the Booty Call images, these portraits do not use costumes, sets, and props. The emphasis is on the youthful clear eyes of the models, and on the chest hair or lack of it. One model’s chest and shoulder hair drew the long-lingering primal viewing interest of some guests. Also of special interest to many visitors to the show were a redheaded model and Stephen Quinones, who have been on public display for years as Castro Street business employees.

Most of the show opening guests were similar in appearance to the show models, young men in their 20’s, and mostly white. Some handsome Latino models showed up and they received long-lingering glances, and Juanita More’s striking outfit and makeup received surprised expressions from women.

Brandon Norris is one of Juanita More’s Moreboys, and the panorama of these men can be viewed on her website. Norris is described with warmth and affection, and for the quality of his photography.

Juanita More is a San Francisco character, and an artistic phenomenon. Her accomplishments are described with a typical toned-down humility on her popular website. She is a champion charity fundraiser, and there is a safer-sex message that she mentions, and she has received well-deserved honors. Juanita More is well known as an intuitive DJ, giving fans what they want, and she frequently helps out good causes.

The yearly Trannyshack Pageant features pre-show performance by Miss More, and every year she and her co-stars outshine the dozen plus contestants. One year it was a re-mounting of the Cotton Club, and another year she appeared on stage surrounded by toughs circling her with menacing gestures. A backstage check revealed the toughs to be the impossibly cute Moreboys in heavy scarred dockworker makeup.

Brandon Norris and other Moreboys starred in one of San Francisco’s most stunning parties at the Museum of Modern Art a few years ago. Miss More’s designer, Mr. David, had designed fantastic gowns, scanty outfits, and even animal costumes for Juanita More’s guests on an elevated platform with its own bar and music system. Museum goers gasped and stared on four sides as Juanita More’s guests danced and drank, oblivious to onlookers below them.

What Juanita More is most known for is providing inspiration for young creative men like Brandon Norris to find their way in the art world. And also she is the mysterious presence and persuasive photographer who can lure usually cool and unapproachable young men to her apartment for intense sessions that result in some of the most provocative imagery seen in this decade. How she can not only photograph the men and then receive permission to place the stunning and highly sensual photographs on her website should remain a mystery. There are so few mysteries now — like Donna Sachet’s real name and whether Heklina will bring back a weekly Trannyshack Club.

Brandon Norris is talented and lucky to have drawn Juanita More to him to develop and showcase his work. And San Francisco nightlife needs more artistry, the kind that can show two studs tongue wrestling, as seen in a Booty Club photograph, and make it look like something that would make a fine framed enlargement over someone’s couch.

[Photo caption #1: 8/27/09 — Photographer Brandon Norris and Juanita More.]

[Photo caption #2: 8/27/09 — Striking image of young redheaded man by photographer Brandon Norris.]

[Photo caption #3: 8/27/09 — Model Alvaro Gonzalez and photographer Brandon Norris.]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Pill-a-Day to Stop AIDS and Two Million Gay Sex Acts

Dr. Willi McFarland of the San Francisco Department of Public Health

The Stop AIDS Project presented two forums at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center in one week to involve concerned citizens in HIV/AIDS prevention. The first forum was on August 13, 2009, and was a panel discussion on a pill-a-day for blocking the virus, a Q&A, and then one-on-one discussions between panelists and audience members.

Panelists included Dr. Al Liu and Jen Sarche from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH). Dr Liu is the Director of HIV Prevention Intervention Studies at SFDPH, and Jen Sarche is Director of SFDPH Community Programs. They spoke about San Francisco’s Prepare Study, which is The City’s pill-a-day effort.

Matt Sharp, the Director of Prevention and Treatment Advocacy at Project Inform, spoke about national and international pill-a-day studies.

SFDPH Research Unit Director Dr. Moupali Das-Douglas spoke about the community’s overall health with a reference to the threat of crystal meth.

Dr. Rick Loftus of Davies Hospital discussed the effect of a prevention pill on HIV negative men’s bodies.

The event was a collaboration between the SFDPH Research Unit and Stop AIDS Project, and they seamlessly interacted and coordinated their efforts to clarify the facts in laymen’s terms. More than 60 men attended the forum and about two thirds were people of color.

A pill-a-day has worked for birth control and for malaria prevention, so it was reasoned that if an HIV prevention pill could be developed, it would also be accepted. And it was announced that community comments would be welcomed at the next forum on September 17 about a pill-a-day program.

The second forum, on August 17, was about venues for virus infection intervention and on the controversial subject of serosorting.

The Stop AIDS Project’s Education Director Jennifer Hecht spoke passionately about how men at venues such as bars and sex clubs, along with online hook-ups can be persuaded to be safer during sex.

Serosorting was described by the SFDPH’s Dr. Willi McFarland as the method of trying to avoid HIV/AIDS by negative status people when they only have sex with other negative status people. And serosorting is also when positive status people avoid spreading HIV/AIDS by only having sex with other positive status people. This practice emerged from the community, and health professionals have been studying it to try to see how it works and how it can be enabled to try to cut back on the yearly new HIV infection rate of more than 1,000 people. It was seen as controversial by some activists because they felt it was creating one more division between men. And the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta thought it may cause more HIV infections because many people who think that they are negative are actually positive. Activists’ hate messages poured into the SFDPH offices, and Dr. McFarland displayed one in his slide show. The CDC has come around to the idea that serosorting as a viable AIDS prevention method.

The Stop AIDS Project has been interviewing people to learn about sexual practices since they were founded 25 years ago. Evidently thousands of San Francisco gay, bi, and trans men are not satisfied with just watching erotic videos of Kai Ford and Blu Kennedy going at it on their TV and computer screens. One interviewee mentioned had 90 anal sex contacts in 6 months. He was at the high end and that caused a lot of head turning at the forum. Then it was revealed that about 2 million man-on-man sex acts had occurred in San Francisco over a 6-month period. Some people rose a few inches from their seats, turned their heads to eye each other, and quietly gasped at that news.

A connection between the two forums was they both featured Stop AIDS Project Program Director Kate Sorenson as the MC. She masterfully kept the speakers to their time limits and made some definitive comments to keep the programs rolling. Stop AIDS Project’s Executive Director Kyriell Noon attentively monitored both forums from the audience, and he spoke with panelists and guests.

[Photo caption: 8/17/2009 — A Community Report on HIV Data at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Dr. Willi McFarland of the San Francisco Department of Public Health showed a hate message that was sent when his office suggested serosorting as an HIV/AIDS prevention strategy. Some people were offended that positives and negatives should only have sex with those of the same status. The forum covered new research and the HIV situation in SF.]

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Poems of Loss and Hope with Wondrous Music

Poet Jeffrey Lilly read from his new collection of poems "The Butterfly Flies" at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav on August 2nd, 2009, accompanied by composer and pianist Jonathan Comisar. The sizable audience found themselves in the temple’s sanctuary, an immense space with a vaulted roof and burnt orange and natural wood-toned surfaces. Modern stained glass and a floral tribute added some color, as did Jeffrey Lilly’s rainbow striped shirt.

The temple’s past board president, Arthur Slepian, greeted the guests and introduced Jeffrey Lilly and Jonathan Comisar. He also welcomed the guests to the temple, and described the congregation as reform progressive with LGBT’s and some non-LGBT’s. There are also conservative and orthodox members who are drawn by the large LGBT membership. Both Lilly and Comisar have a connection with Sha’ar Zahav, with Jeffrey Lilly volunteering at the temple store and Jonathan Comisar leading prayers. Comisar’s compositions are used in services, and he is considered to be a musical genius by his friends and some critics.

Arthur Slepian also spoke about an AIDS anthology that Lilly is finishing, and that he is a translator who was on the board of the National Poetry Association. Lilly’s previous CD is the well-received "Promised Land Poems." Slepian spoke about Jonathan Comisar’s work being in demand at synagogues across America. He is also a cantor and teacher and he is working on two musical theater productions.

Unlike most poetry readings when the live music is subdued, Comisar attacked the piano keys and made it clear that no one was going to be able to doze during his performance. Lilly raised his melodious resonant voice and the poetry and the music merged for an assertive stance of meaning.

Jeffrey Lilly composes his work to relate to his life, to scenes of every day living, and politics. The death of his father in a plane crash, the moon rising over the city, and the assassination of a peace-seeking Israeli leader were touched on. His mother’s death, a young man in his bed, and Palestine and Israel were mentioned. Kissing his rabbi, admiring the beauty of an Indian woman on a bus, and the legacy of Robert Kennedy were among his themes. There was a message of loss, but also one of hope.

The presentation ended with Jeffrey Lilly thanking Jonathan Comisar for his brilliant command of the piano, and he thanked the audience for attending. And there was a flurry of CD sales after the thank you’s.