Photography: Craig Perman

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An ad shooter since 1980, Minneapolis-based Craig Perman has worked with most of the big agencies and blue-chip clients, and he knows the value of a good self-promotion. As a self-described "slice-of-life, quirky moment" photographer, he's done offbeat, humorous promos before, "but this is different," he says. "This is a campaign developed specifically around a pretty cool concept." The concept in question is Perman's four-ad "I Am Not a Whore" trade print campaign, starring creative directors in drag, who lent their services gratis: Alex Bogusky of Crispin, Porter & Bogusky/Miami; Tracy Wong of WongDoody/Seattle; Eric Silver of Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York; and Bob Barrie of Fallon/Minneapolis. Though Perman's specialty is photos in which it appears "something's gone wrong, and I snapped it as it happened," as he puts it, something's clearly gone wrong in this campaign, but you can bet it didn't just happen - it originated in the twisted minds of his buddies at year-old Minneapolis shop One and All, founded by ex-Fallonite CD Mike Lescarbeau, who handled the copy, with Mike Fetrow doing the art direction. "I credit those guys for their knowledge of how to market to the people I'm trying to reach," says Perman. He hadn't had any prior experience with drag queens, "but there are few people in this business who aren't up for something slightly askew," he says. "I had no problem whatsoever with the idea. In fact, I get my hair cut now by a transvestite. As a photographer, you're asked to learn about a subject quickly as you develop ideas for a shot, so for me this was fascinating." As it surely was for the subjects. Perman had worked previously only with Barrie, but finding willing participants was not a problem. "The agency came up with the list of people to pose," Perman explains. "Creative people in general are game for a great concept. We all step up when there's a project that will get some attention."

But some step up a bit more than others. Not that this is an ego thing. "I don't see it so much as a drag ad as a statement about integrity and trying to do the right thing," says AD Fetrow. The sparkling copy plays a big part in this. The opening line for Silver, for instance, is, "Yes, I take money for doing naughty things with gerbils." Tracy Wong says, "If I love your brand, I'm yours." Who knew he'd look so adorable in a teddy? "The thing is, he's a big guy," says Perman. "He used to play minor league hockey. Clothing them all was a challenge, especially looking for shoes. Bob Barrie and I are about the same size, I'm 6-5. I had to find a size 14 high heel. But I eventually discovered that there are more high heels available in my size than there are Doc Martens. As you research all the clothing you need, you realize there's a whole industry out there devoted to men who dress up."

"They all wanted to be the cutest-looking one," recalls Fetrow. "Each one we went to, it kind of upped the bar a little bit. They were willing to do more and more. It's two hours of makeup and two and a half hours of shooting. All the guys were great sports about it."

"Some of them had to shave their chests," adds Perman. "That's not easy." Nor is getting all dolled up for the first time in your life. "I had two drag queens working with me, one from Minneapolis, one from Miami," explains Perman. "I found them just how you'd find anyone else - research. Get on the phone, start asking around, do some interviews. The transformations were critical, and the drag queens were solely responsible for effecting them." The medium-format shoots were on location in various dives, though Eric Silver displayed his wares in New York's notorious Chelsea Hotel.

Does Perman have a favorite? "My ultimate fantasy would be to go home with all of them," he deadpans diplomatically. We'd like to suggest that Bogusky is a veritable hottie. "Yeah, he's attractive, isn't he?" chuckles Fetrow. Bogusky himself feigns modesty. "From a distance, I'm pretty hot," he says. "You get up close, I don't think you'd want to have much to do with me. I heard Tracy's considered the hottest one. He's got the Asian bone structure to fall back on. That's not really fair." Hottest or not, Bogusky admits, "I still haven't told my parents."

Needless to say, awards show entries are planned. How about a second round? Maybe women posing as men? "It's been discussed, and I'd love to do it," says Perman. So what happened to all the clothes? Did he keep them? "Maybe," he says coyly. "Maybe not."

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