Blacklisting is an art deeply woven into the culture of St. Louis, a city that produces cold winters, but even colder shoulders. The July and August 2017 efforts of a disgruntled rival to blacklist photographer and producer Chuck Pfoutz, however, completely lacked the hallmarks of our local style. There was no subtlety and intrigue, no classic whisper campaign. No, someone actually circulated a petition demanding that nobody allow Pfoutz to work in this town.
For the fifteen months before that, Pfoutz had produced and hosted the Monday and Tuesday shows at Grey Fox Pub, called “Man-Crush Monday” and “Top-Notch Tuesday.” He’d been inspired by drag pageants he attended a few years before, and began regularly photographing performers.
“I was fascinated by how far people would go to win a crown,” Pfoutz says. “Hours of effort to achieve something great and entertain while doing it. I documented 30 pageants. I wasn’t just photographing. I was taking notes.”
Then came the petition. I recall seeing it at the time, long before I’d met anyone involved. It sought to blacklist Pfoutz from shooting future drag shows — apparently because his chief detractor thought he’d intentionally posted bad shots of him. It’s a claim Pfoutz denies.
“I think the concern was he posted several photos some felt were unflattering,” recalls the always diplomatic Jade Sinclair, who serves as the Grey Fox’s show director and worked closely with both Pfoutz and the person circulating the petition. “He wasn’t filtering what he posted.”
(The person who circulated the petition recently deleted his social media accounts after drawing controversy for his comments over immigration; we are not naming him because we were not able to reach him for comment.)
Pfoutz credits Sinclair and Bar P.M. Show Director Adria Andrews for supporting him during the controversy, after he publicly proclaimed he would no longer work in the drag community.
“Why anyone would want to try and cause him grief over something he loved doing, and always for free I might add, is beyond me,” says Adria Andrews.
“Chuck has always been super sweet to the queens in the shows and pageants he attended,” Andrews says. “Why anyone would want to try and cause him grief over something he loved doing, and always for free I might add, is beyond me.”
Adds Sinclair, “I just felt like a petition was a bit much and going about things in the wrong direction. I’m not sure why people just couldn’t communicate. He [Pfoutz] would take these pictures and capture memories pretty much for free.”
Sinclair recalls that Pfoutz was ready to pull the plug on his drag photography. She urged him not to do so. “ I didn’t like that his feelings were hurt and he was going to let this change his behavior,” she says. “I reached out and encouraged him not to let it affect him that much.”
But affect him it did. Pfoutz says his employer also got anonymous (and relentless) phone calls, which he says resulted in the loss of his lucrative position in the information technology field. On top of all this, he was suffering from health issues.
Shunned by some, even as others simply declined to get involved, Pfoutz stepped back from the LGBTQ community.
Growth in Exile
Nine days after losing his job, Pfoutz landed a position at a local university, which paid more than he had been earning before. Then, at the beginning of 2018, he threw a dream out to the universe, and the universe responded.
“I just posted about how I’d love to photograph New York Fashion Week, and the next thing I know an offer comes in and I’m on a flight,” he recalls.
I could almost hear Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” in my head when Pfoutz discussed how his exile from the LGBTQ community pushed him to expand his horizons.
“Dealing with the darkness forced me into the fashion community,” Pfoutz says.
In New York, he was a guest of, and shot for, the fashion company The SOCIETY. “Dealing with the darkness forced me into the fashion community,” Pfoutz says.
In July, Pfoutz produced the first Maximum Exposure Fashion Series. After the nastiness with the petition and the triumph in New York, Pfoutz was back.
I attended the show last July not knowing what to expect. That summer I was binge-watching Pose, and picked up on the similarities, although Pfoutz hasn’t seen the FX series. It was drag ball meets Project Runway, a wonderfully diverse group of models giving face on the glitzy runway of Hamburger Mary’s as cameras flashed and designers mingled.
Sunday’s show will be the second installment, and its theme, Darkness to Light, was inspired by his personal exile, Ferguson, the shooting at Pulse nightclub, and other events.
Pfoutz says Sunday’s show will be even better than the first, with roughly a dozen designers from as far away as New York. Local talent will be very represented as well, including “designer to drag stars” Alicia Markstone.Chuck Pfoutz is back from exile, and eager to give the community a new and dazzling experience. The Maximum Exposure Fashion Series takes place Sunday, January 13 at the Third Degree Glass Factory. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are available via Eventbrite.