Magnus Hastings’ new coffee-table book, Rainbow Revolution, presents sometimes intimate, sometimes outrageous portraits of queer identity, featuring subjects representing the entire spectrum of the LGBTQ rainbow. Inspired by the photographer’s social media campaign #GayFace — a project that quickly became a viral sensation for — Rainbow Revolution features over 300 photographs of everyday individuals and celebrities like Kathy Griffin, Boy George, Luke Evans, and fan favorites from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“The inspiration for Rainbow Revolution came from watching the world moving to a dark and right winged place,” says Hastings. “I wanted to create a project that was highly visible and unapologetically queer, and one that shouted with pride, defiance, humor, and joy because, after all, if the LGBTQ community is good at anything, it is laughing in the face of adversity.”
This project initially began with Hastings ruminating on “gay face” and how to capture expressions of that idea, but the idea took a turn when he was challenged by a transwoman, Roselyn Blumenstein, that the concept was too limiting and the title would prevent her from being able to sit for photographs. Hastings recalled her telling him, “I desperately want to be in your project, but I can't, in good conscience, be in it if it's called gay face, because I spent most of my life campaigning to be accepted by gay men in the queer community.”
Some soul-searching allowed him to capture the heart of what he wanted to do—capture how LGBTQ people across the gender and sexuality spectrums want to express themselves.
“I came up with this whole little idea—a box is a square and a square is the most social media friendly thing. And, if it's a white box, it's going to bounce light around and be gorgeous and make everyone look great! Plus, then it's theater, and people can create things and create a world and express themselves how they want.”
Getting to the book deal was a long-haul endeavor, but Hastings knew how he’d market the idea and get exposure for the project: “I thought, ‘What if I asked hand-picked people, on the same day, at the same time—if we're going to do social media, so it's all secret—everyone drops their image across social media platforms at the same time?’”
With those concepts fleshed out, Hastings built his box in three days, and began putting out feelers for test subjects.
“I got Alaska to be my guinea pig, and when I saw how it turned out, I went, ‘It's gonna be amazing!’ So, I then went about enlisting people. For three months, I shot about 120 people: I went to San Francisco, to New York, Los Angeles. And I was living in this kind of dread, that the whole thing could be completely ruined—anyone could leak. I didn't send anyone their pictures. No one was allowed to even see their picture!”
Accompanying Hastings’ compelling and beautiful photos are powerful essays from select subjects, detailing their personal battles. “The essays elevate the book for me and give it a purpose beyond the social media recognition the images have gained,” says Hastings.
When asked to discuss some of his favorite images and subjects, Hastings had quite a few examples. But one he shared when we talked was one he has often discussed: Ruby.
“Of all the extraordinary people I have been lucky enough to photograph in one of my boxes, I think Ruby has impacted me most,” revealed Hastings.
A gay couple and their family arrived to shoot, and Hastings was introduced to the children, including a sweet, shy kid called Jacob. Jacob had a hard time getting out of his shell, until Hastings got him to do a headstand. Jacob’s dads then informed Magnus that Jacob would like to become Ruby for the shoot. Jacob left, and Ruby, his red dress-clad person returned, all shyness erased!
"As a child who sometimes wore dresses, I identified with Ruby,” Magnus Hastings reflects. “I was deeply moved to see Ruby's adoring parents allowing their child to be themselves. It is really exciting that the spectrum of what is accepted and celebrated today is broadening so fast allowing people like Ruby to find their tribe and belong."
Magnus Hastings’ Rainbow Revolution has been available everywhere books are sold since November 24. A portion of print sales from Rainbow Revolution will go to Magnus Hastings’ chosen charities: True Colors United in the USA and the Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK. Digital galleries can be seen and prints can be purchased at magnushastings.com.