2020 Census

9 Questions with James Hosking

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As part of the digital experience Come to Your Census: Who Counts in America? presented under the umbrella of the Art+Action Coalition’s COME TO YOUR CENSUS campaign—powered by San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA)—YBCA and Art+Action have asked participating artists to respond to prompts around activism, community-building, and art, in the format of the Census’ 9 questions.

James Hosking is a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Chicago. His work exploring gender, class, and labor has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, Mother Jones, the California Sunday Magazine, and many other outlets.

His film and photographic series Beautiful By Night follows a trio of older drag performers who work at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the last gay bar in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin neighborhood. This series highlights the power of performance and resilience found at all ages.

What is your first experience in seeing/feeling the impact of art + activism?

ACT UP’s slogan, “Silence = Death” 

What makes you feel a deep sense of belonging?

I make art to try to find that sense of belonging. It is often fleeting. I chase it. 

What do you wish for your community? 

I wish for ironclad non-discrimination laws protecting employment and housing. I wish for nuanced and truthful representation in both news and entertainment media. 

Who are the most vulnerable members of your community and how do you support them?

Transgender women, seniors, performers, and sex workers. I support them by making work that shares their stories to those they might not meet. On an individual level, I support them by being a good friend.

What’s at stake in contemporary art when creating work that pertains to social and political reform?

Implications for public policy might not be clear during the creation of my work. I have to start from a personal place first.

What are some strategies for breaking through political disengagement, distrust or distraction?

Harness the power of narrative in art-making. Build empathy and identification through it. Everyone likes an interesting story, well told. 

What would push you past your fear? 


What is at stake for you and your community by taking the census? 

Federal funding that could help communities grow and thrive. 

What, if anything, is worth fighting for? 

Nuanced, authentic representation. A more equitable society.